Director / Producer: Amber Production Team (N.B. this is the party line, but some sources credit Murray Martin as director)
Production Co.: Amber Films
Production Manager: Lorna Powell
Screenplay: Tom Hadaway & the Amber Production Team
Cinematography: Peter Roberts
Editor: Ellie Hare
Art Director: Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
Sound: Elaine Drainville
Music: Alasdair Robertson
Betty: Amber Styles
Ray: Ray Stubbs
Corrina: Corrina Stubbs
Joe: Benny Graham
Man on Dole: Tom Haddaway
Counter Clerk: Murray Martin
Ronnie: Sammy Johnson
DHSS Investigator: Steve Trafford
Woman on Dole: Mo Harrold
82 minutes
16 mm
As haunting visually as it is heroic politically, Seacoal celebrates more than nostalgia for a lost way of life. Despite the poverty, the weather, the uncertainty of the living, the conspiracies of the dole queue, anti-Romany racism and the fear of caravan fires and ghosts on the beach; this reconstruction of life takes on epic proportions.
- Sean Cubitt, City Limits
Mixing fiction with documentary, this film looks at the lives of the sea-coal collectors working the beaches of the Northumberland coast, and at the economic and political realities permeating their hard, rude existence. Gritty Loach-style realism, leavened by lyrical camerawork and a strong - even romantic - sense of community, as seen through the eyes of a woman newly introduced to the unrelenting labour of hardship by her chauvinist lover. Intelligent and sensitive.
- Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide, London, 1995
Seacoal is the first full-length feature from Amber Films, an independent production company set up in the late 60s with the aim of documenting working-class lives. Both production team and actors lived with the sea coalers for two years while working on the film, and the end result might be classified, in television terms, as a docudrama. But the particular resonances here are all cinematic. The film's soundtrack calls to mind the treatment of working-class lives in certain American genres (sagas of the dustbowl, for instance), the winning emotional banality of the songs helping to point up the irony of Ray's talk about 'the Klondike' and 'nuggets' (referring to coal, not gold). When Betty points out that the site is virtually next door to a rubbish dump, Ray replies "what's a bit of rubbish - see that view." In a sense, the film is poised between these contradictory viewpoints, on the one hand chronicling society's rejection of coalers as 'muck', and on the other demonstrating how easy it is to be seduced by the spectacle of muddy men and horses pulling carts, wild-haired children riding ponies, and the natural beauties of the beach and open sea.
Apart from several sequences centred on Corrina, the film keeps lyricism at arm's length; this is no celebration of labour in a pre-industrial context. It is here, too, that the film is able to distance itself from the British Documentary Movement, which the makers have elsewhere acknowledged as an influence. What emerges is a style and an address that has more in common with neo-realism. It's a similarity that goes beyond the vaguely Anthony Quinn cast to Ray Stubbs' performance, although it does have something to do with the use of the local dialect, which gives the film a density of texture.
In common with a recurring theme within neo-realism, Ray is a would-be entrepreneur who fails, sold down the river by his gangster-like acquaintance, rather than an exemplary figure. Against this, Betty's appeal to independence and a certain solidarity with the other women remains tentative rather than realised. The very grim poetry of the couple's labours for derisory wages even suggests that, far from being in need of preservation as the final titles argue, this way of life could only be changed for the better... With unfailingly persuasive performances from its leads, Seacoal is a notable achievement of quite unflinching conviction.
- Verina Glaessner, Monthly Film Bulletin, 5/86
For their first feature, Seacoal, Amber went to live among the travellers who scratch a living shoaling waste coal washed ashore from the Northumbrian coast. A fictional story played by actors was evolved, around which the local community 'played' themselves. Quite apart from the fact that their contributions were unscripted (to satisfy Equity's requirements), which lent a certain spontaneity to the proceedings, these genuine 'characters' tended to overwhelm the injected fictional element.
- Theresa Fitzgerald, 'Shoptalk', Sight & Sound, Summer 1988