Film review: And Then Come The Nightjars

Bea Roberts’s play about the foot and mouth outbreak of two decades ago comes to the screen under the direction of Paul Robinson. The film is dedicated to the 6 million animals slaughtered and the 7,800 farm workers left out of work.

Farmer Michael (David Fielder) and vet Jeffrey (Nigel Hastings) are the central characters in this personal and affecting tale of friendship and the fight for survival against the backdrop of a blackly comic and devastating story of a way of life collapsing.

I can remember very clearly looking out of a train window going north and seeing a burning pile of cattle carcasses, as farmers were instructed to destroy the animals who brought them money and affection.

Roberts and Robinson (who directed the play on stage, too) bring the anger and sentimentality of the story through to film. It remains a strong two-hander where the men say little and mean everything.

Michael is a widower, with his farm and cattle forming the whole of his little world. Jeffrey’s rocky marriage is his own fault; his drinking fuels his resentment of the woman he once adored.

The film doesn’t shirk away from the impact of catastrophe, with Michael’s rage at the loss of his “girls” (each cow named for a Royal family member) contrasting with the quiet moments of birdsong and light breezes.

There are no additional characters here, other than shadows not given lines, and they aren’t needed. This is an observational piece filled with sadness and power (“it’s not about the bloody money, is it?”).

A national policy of killing healthy animals on a precaution destroyed the lives of so many, psychologically and financially. This is a frank and horrific story, one representing many, and it hits home perfectly.

The shot of Michael in an empty cowshed with the smoke from the pyre drifting across says more in its silence than any moment of justifying policy could ever do.

Opening in cinemas 1 Sep, I reviewed from a screener (with thanks to Finite Films).


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