Film Details

  • Title: Like Father
  • Date: 2001
  • Genre: Drama
  • Original Format: 16mm optical
  • Duration: 94 mins
  • Length: 3500'
  • Sound: Yes
  • Colour/BW: Colour
  • Digital Version Available: No


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Like Father

Amber Films 2001

Like Father portrays a family in crisis, focusing on the dislocations of grandfather, father and son. Pigeon man Arthur Elliott, a 70 year-old whose working life in the pit gave him a strong sense of identity and pride, is losing his allotment to the local authority's coastal redevelopment scheme. Working as a trumpet player, a teacher and a club singer, as well as running an agency for club acts, 40 year old, ex-miner, Joe Elliott can just about scrape a living out of his music, but he is losing his wife. 10 year old Michael Elliott, who is living with the pit village folklore and the wreckage of the coal industry, is left to grapple with his own realities. Each of the three generations is struggling to come to terms with the past and find the ties that bind them. The three separate, but essentially integrated worlds, unfold against the rich and extraordinary backdrop of East Durham's landscapes and locations.

It is the second film in Amber’s coalfield trilogy. The Scar (1997) explored the lives of women in the aftermath of the failed Miners’ Strike of 1984, and the closure of Durham’s last pit in 1993. The third film, Shooting Magpies (2005) looks at the post-industrial generation, and the impacts of heroin in the colliery villages of East Durham.

Development of Like Father began in 1998. Its dramatic content originated from actual lives and the unfolding of real events. Incorporating documentary situations, the film features strong performances from both professional and non-professional actors alike. Strongly committed to nurturing latent natural talent, Amber took the bold step of casting local people with no previous acting experience in each of the three main roles: Ned Kelly as Arthur; Jonathon Dent as Michael; and Joe Armstrong, who himself an ex-miner, plays Joe, and wrote the brass band suite which features in the film as a commission for his character.


Made with the financial assistance of the BBC.


Easington, Seaham, Horden, County Durham


Conceived, written, produced, directed, photographed and edited by Amber:
Richard Grassick
Ellin Hare
Murray Martin
Pat McCarthy
Lorna Powell
Peter Roberts
Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

Suite for brass band, 'Images of Peterlee' by Joe Armstrong
Edited by David Dye
Incidental music: John Alder
Musicians: Adrian Freedman, Richard Evans, Joe Armstrong, Ellin Hare

Script collaborator: Roger Hyams
Executive Producer: Tessa Ross.

Sound Recordists: Dave Eadington, Elaine Drainville, Tommy Hair
Trainee: Michael James
Camera assistant: Dave Daniels
Electrician/Grip: Geoff Scott
Continuity: Emma McKinney, Lisa Jones
Art Direction: Irena Pietruszka
Set Direction: Karen Campbell, Brian Hubbard
Assistant Directors: Patricia Kearns, Natalie Brow
Make-up: Michael Birtley
Catering: Krew Cuisine
Stunt Co-ordinator: Jim Davies
Stunt Arranger: Peter Thirm
Child care: Paul Herron, Eileen Dougherty
Production Accounts: Annie Robson
Editing Assistants: Emma McKinney, Katja Roberts

Archive footage: National Film Archive in association with the Northern Regional Film Archive
Archive consultant: Bob Davis

Made under the auspices of the BECTU workshop declaration
Financial Assistance: The Arts Council of Great Britain with National Lottery Funding, Northern Arts, BBC Films


Joe Elliott: Joe Armstrong
Arthur Elliott: Ned Kelly
Michael Elliott: Jonathon Dent
Carol Elliott: Anna Gascoigne
David Hylton: Derek Walmsley
Willie: Willie Ross
Brian: Brian Hogg
Gutsell: Ashley Gutsell
Dougherty: Peter Dougherty
Jay: Jay Foulds
Gary: Gary Everist
Jackie: Jackie Surtees
Joe: Joe Jones
John: John Reid
Jean: Amber Styles
Denise: Denise Dobson
Council Official: Joe Caffrey
Tony: Mike Mould
Security Man: Trevor Fox
Teacher: Fiona Williams
Headmaster: Alan Coates
Young Joe: James Henson
Mother: Marilyn Johnson
Removal men: Robert McKenna & Anthony Parry
Walter: Jeffry Oswell
Barman: James Dixon
Photographer: Graeme Rigby
Dance Musicians: Ian Gourlay, Ken Pipes, Colin Woodland
Auctioneer: John Hayden
Auction Assistants: Frankie Charlton and Jack Bostock
Doorman: Bill Donkin
Receptionist: Katja Roberts

Rob Bellingham
Tony Bellingham
Terry James
Graeme Armstrong
Bob Walker
Bill Hutchinson
Terry Miller
Marjorie Whitwell
Marjorie Hays
Violet McLoram
Dorothy Miller
Muriel Johnson
John Davison
Lorna Powell
Alex Dorney
Caroline Dorney
Myrtle McPherson
Heather Wood
Peter McCarthy
Jim McWilliams
John McElroy
Denise Riach
Don Maughan
Tim Kendall
Bill Pickard
Richard Green
Alison Mould
Anthony Oscar Diamond
Jane Miller
Judi Earl
Annie Robson
Julie Evans
Susan Day
Eddie Atkinson
Darren Foster
Janet McMenam
Terry McMenam
Sylvia Hammond
Jacqueline Kell
Linda Robinson
Peterlee GT Group Band, conductor: Tom Maddison
Peterlee Band Junior Section: Vanessa Appleton, Sheryl Lonnor, Helen Lonroy, Keith Rowell, Paul Kitchen, John Hunt, Mattie Hare, Christopher Armstrong, Christopher Beaumont
Ever Ready Band
Haswell Mencap: Judith Barber, Brian Bell, George Carrol, Paul Devlin, Doris Graham, Helen Graham, Terry Graham, Sandra Hancock, Paul Woof, Jeffrey Lawson, Brian Lowery, Stephen Mason, Barry Milburn, David Richardson, Michael Storey
School: Ropery Walk Primary Class 5 / 1999


Brass Band, Coal, Community, Durham, Easington, Fathers, North East, Post-Industrial, Regeneration, Silver Band, Sons, Workingmen's Club, Allotments, Marriage

Reviews and Awards

Golden Sun, Best Feature Film, International Environmental Film Festival, Girona (2002)


The quality of all the performances - notably the amateurs, led by Joe Armstrong - is first rate, and they are matched by the cinematography….. At times this looks the best place in the world. The music, too, much of it composed in real life by Joe Armstrong, adds to the film's compelling atmosphere. Some will compare this film with Billy Elliot but that was fantasy. This reeks of the truth. It is one of the best films of the year. * David Whetstone, The Journal

Engaging intimate cinema and the dramatic north-eastern coastline is terrifically photographed …. This is a warm, human film. Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

A love triangle of a different sort, Amber's latest broaches the potentially fraught subject of modern masculinity with a beautifully leavened story of a family's three generations of men. Like Father's simple structure touches upon a remarkable array of issues and experience. The wonder is that it's so lightly achieved: the films treatment of concerns as seemingly far-flung as boyhood rivalry and civic corruption, attention-span deficiency and the fate of the natural landscape is so subtle, you'd be more likely to miss the point altogether than find it in any way dogmatic….. there's a vivid beauty here, and a pang of melancholia in the recognition of the loneliness that's concomitant with men's social instinct. Nick Bradshaw, Time Out

Like Father is committed, realist film-making, with all the courage of its considerable conviction…. This is tremendously affecting and effective, the actors, give terrific, impassioned performances, especially Joe Armstrong, whose character grows in dignity and stature as his own life disintegrates around him, and has a tragic dimension appropriate to the big screen. Low on budget, but high on intelligence, why can't we have more Brit films like this?

Like Ken Loach at his most effective, Amber show an ability to successfully marry realism and melodrama, the stirring music in this case being provided by the brass band for whom Joe writes various compositions. Neither patronising nor idolising its characters, and with a dry humour, Like Father also allows its various themes - such as class conflict, the clash between traditions and progress, and the burden of the past - to develop organically from the story line. And the supremely convincing performances …. Ensure that it never descends into dour dogma and remains a flesh - and - blood tale of ordinary dignity and pride. Tom Dawson,

This enthralling drama focuses on a working-class family in East Durham. The central theme is the heart's longing for emotional sustenance, and the film does its bit to satisfy this need in its viewers. Edward Porter, The Sunday Times

A winning authentic slice of family life set against the rough beauty of the former East Durham coalfield. The mainly non-professional cast turn in strong, naturalistic performances; as the film's amiable, put - upon central figure, Armstrong is particularly fine. The Times

Like Father is unabashedly concerned with intergenerational, crisis-hit masculinity. Michael starts to disdain his beleaguered dad for the company of the pigeon men (there's a tremendous moment when a distressed Jackie hands down his cherished catapult to the boy). The production is dedicated to the comic Willie Ross, who died of a brain haemorrhage during filming. Like Father permits Ross fans one lovely last chance to cherish his cock-eyed, stiff-legged imitation of inebriation. For this and umpteen other reasons, Like Father is a genuine treasure,worth ten of Billy Elliot. Richard Kelly, Sight & Sound

Not short on the feel-good factor itself - the swell of the brass band and the sight of thousands of pigeons being liberated for a race knock the socks off Billy Elliot's gooey sentimentalism - Like Father is a responsible film that also manages to be deeply likeable. While teams like Amber continue to produce work of this calibre, non-mainstream British film will remain in rude health. Emma Sturgess, Metro

A familiar but intensely rendered portrait of a former mining community in East Durham, northern England, 'Like Father' brooks no sugar-coating as it examines the messy consequences of de-industrialization. Social and familial divisions are convincingly depicted thanks to three fine non-pros in the lead roles. Detractors may damn earnest venture as bargain basement Ken Loach, but pic fiercely champions ordinary people who prefer to remain in their hometown rather than head off for the big city. Lisa Nesselson, Variety

This naturalism is what ensures the film isn't unremitingly grim-oop-north. As in real life there is hope, humour and rugged beauty amid the bleakness. Nicholas Barber, Independent on Sunday

As Joe Eliot, ex-miner, trumpet player and troubled family man, Joe Armstrong gives a likeably rounded performance. I hope we see more of him. Anthony Quinn, The Independent

A non-professional cast shine in this superbly photographed low-key drama. The Independent

Alongside Ken Loach, Amber are the last great (working) class warriors of British film... You watch an Amber film and you are convinced you are eavesdropping on real lives. Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian

Associated Work


  1. Peaceable Kingdoms, photographic exhibition by Peter Fryer documenting allotments in Newcastle upon Tyne - influential in the development of the film. Follow the link to see a free online presentation.

  2. It's The Pits (Amber Films, 1995, AV/ITP), video documentary about the lack of youth facilities in East Durham.

  3. The Scar (Amber Films, 1997, AF/TSC), the first of the feature dramas that are referred to as 'The Coalfield Trilogy', exploring the post-pit closure lives of women who had been involved in the campaign against pit closures that was initiated during the Miners' Strike of 1984.

  4. Shooting Magpies (Amber Films, 2005), the third of the feature dramas that are referred to as 'The Coalfield Trilogy', exploring the impact of heroin in the ex-pit villages of East Durham.

  5. Horden Victory Club, photographic exhibition by Martin Figura, developed in one of the key locations used in Like Father. Follow the link to a free online presentation.

  6. Post Industrial, photographic exhibition by Richard Grassick, comparing post-industrial Bremerhaven in North Germany with the lives of four ex-miners and their families in East Durham, one of them Joe Armstrong, who plays the lead in Like Father. Follow the link to a free online presentation.

  7. Fathers, photographic exhibition by Peter Fryer, following the lives of two fathers in Seaham, who took on primary childcare responsibilities. Both were involved in the production of Like Father, one of them, Barry Gough, became one of the leads in Shooting Magpies. Follow the link to a free online presentation.

  8. Durham Coalfield, photographic exhibition by John Davies, documenting the working Durham coalfield in 1983. Follow the link to a free online presentation.

  9. Easington: A Mining Village, photographic exhibition by Bruce Rae, documenting Easington on the eve of the Miners' Strike in 1984.

  10. Easington, August 1984, documenting the community at the height of the Miners' Strike.

  11. Where Are We Going? and News From Durham (Amber Films, 1983, AV/WAW and AV/NFD), video documentaries exploring the issues behind the looming confrontation of the Miners Strike. There is also research footage associated with this work.

  12. Why Support the Miners? (Amber Films, 1984, AV/WSM), video 'trigger tape', pilot for the Workshop Movement's Miners' Campaign Tapes.

  13. Can't Beat It Alone (Amber Films 1985, AV/CBI), video documentary exploring the links between the Miners' Support Groups, the Peace Camp at Greenham Common and anti-nuclear campaigners in Billingham and at Druridge Bay in Northumberland. There is also research footage associated with this work.

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Associated Links