‘Shooting Magpies’


Part of a long-standing British tradition seeking to represent the working class with greater respect and veracity, the Amber Collective has produced a large body of film and photography since its inception in 1968, documenting the northeast of England. Amber’s latest, the DV feature Shooting Magpies, spins three interlocking tales of family strife shot in the semi-rural village of East Durham; it’s a fiction based on the players’ real lives. The main thread concerns Emma (Emma Dowson), a young mother of two, who struggles to live with her heroin- addicted partner, Darren (Darren Bell). “You think you’ve reached the bottom,” Emma says in one of the presumably documentary interviews interspersed throughout the narrative, but “it’s bottomless.” Emotionally understated, these performances are Magpies‘ strongest suit; otherwise, its anonymous visual style tends toward TV drama, and the script meanders. The dialogue, spoken exclusively in a thick northeastern accent and marbled with dialect, presents a more serious barrier; at best, half is comprehensible to American ears. Though fact-based, the film succumbs to the social-realist tendency to represent subjects exclusively in terms of their miseries.