Did we like it?
Nick Broomfield’s fictionalised account of the 23 Chinese people who died while cockling in Morecambe Bay in 2004 was a horrifying spectacle.
What was good about it?
• The huge scale of information conveyed to the viewer of the experiences of a Chinese illegal worker. The film followed Ai Qin, a single parent who decided to leave China to seek her fortune in England to support her family. This cost her $25,000 and included a gruelling six-month journey over land culminating in being transported inside a sealed container in a truck to be confronted by violent Snakeheads in the UK.
• Although fictionalised, Ai Qin’s story was told with a distinct verité style, fitting nicely with Broomfield’s reputation as a renowned documentary maker. And the picture it painted of England was not attractive. “Ghosts like bribes,” the characters say to each other in a supermarket as they choose an expensive packet of biscuits and discuss packing it with money to give to the corrupt workers at the employment agency.
• The film not only emphasised the plight of illegal workers, but also other aspects of British life. For a while they work in a meat-packing factory. “I’ll bet you’ll never eat duck again,” said one friendly English worker to Ai Qin. Too right.
• Ai Qin’s Chinese boss Mr Lin was a character full of contradictions – often vindictive, always on the make, he nevertheless had moments of charm, particularly when drunk and insulting the odious ‘Robert’ in Chinese. Robert was the landlord, a contemptible, ostentatious criminal who insisted 15 people live in his property to maximise his profit.
• The photography throughout was fascinating, as it highlighted ugly factories and run down houses juxtaposed with truly stunning landscapes and old English apple orchards.
• The awful foreboding moment when Ai Qin and her friend looked at a rainbow over the sea at Morecambe and wondered if it symbolised a new beginning.
• The dull sense of terror as the viewer was forced to wash the tide slowly creeping in and sloshing around their vehicle, knowing the inevitable result.
• This film admirably had the balls to show that not all illegal workers are jumping housing queues or cheating on benefits. Ghosts featured a group of people in hock to money-lenders, in fear of their own lives and their family’s, lied to and stranded in a foreign country of people who don’t want them here and heading towards almost inevitable doom.
What was bad about it?
• The last 20 minutes were extremely harrowing. The Chinese workers began cockling in Morecambe, but their area had very few cockles. So they tried a new area. The local workers claimed this was ‘their’ area and chased them off, beating up several of the workers. To avoid this, they cockled in bad weather and at night, which was when 23 were drowned by the tide.
• Some of the survivors from the disaster still owe money lenders in China. Despite the fact that the British system accepted and then exploited these workers (and, of course, still does), the British Government refuses to help them. It should be a national scandal.