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TV Review: Mum and Dad are Splitting Up


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One of the subject's of the documentary with his parentsOne in three children in Britain have parents who are divorced. Olly Lambert’s documentary, ‘Mum and Dad are splitting up’ focused on several children’s experience of their parent’s divorce, and as a ‘child of divorce’, it was a documentary I was eager to see. I wondered how it would be structured, how honest the people involved would be and whether the conclusions drawn would be fair or not.

I felt like the formula for the documentary was perfect: no stone was left unturned, no questions unanswered. Lambert demanded the utmost honesty from his subjects, even when discussing difficult topics. He shot one-on-one interviews with the children in their bedrooms, and then for the whole family footage he had them collected their living room. This was a powerful move, as we got to see the children speaking honestly and openly, in the place you would imagine they felt most comfortable, and then the contrast when they were forced to sit in a room with both of their parents. Something which they had spoken about strongly in their room, would be mumbled quietly to their parents. In his stylistic choices, Lambert reveals a lot about the dynamic between parent and child, as well as casting light on the problems some children suffer after their parent’s divorce.

But that is where the problem lay for me. Lambert chose subjects who had all suffered greatly because of their parent’s divorce. Not all children are emotionally scarred after their parent’s separate. It depends on the circumstances in which the divorce happens and the efforts of the parents afterwards, as well as many other factors.

I feel that the documentary presented an unfair view of what life is like for children, post-divorce. This is an issue for me for several reasons. It offers reason to the popular response to saying your parents are divorced of "oh, I’m so sorry." In my case, and I’m sure many others, there is nothing to be sorry about. I always feel incredibly patronised when someone feels the need to take pity on me because my childhood was not the same as theirs, and annoyed by the assumption that because my parents were divorced, it was less happy.

I also feel that Lambert’s documentary could affect any children whose parents have just gone through divorce. I don’t think the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies is absolute in its correctness, but I do think that a child who has just gone through quite an emotional event could react negatively to seeing this documentary.

The stem of the issue becomes apparent in an interview that Lambert did with The Guardian. His parents divorced when he was young, and he claims it cast a ‘cold shadow’ over his life. He also states that he would never get married and have children, because he is "acutely aware of how damaging it can be." Although Lambert’s issues are serious ones, and divorce can result in long standing difficulties for children, it is not a definite, not a certainty of divorce. The only certainty of divorce is that things are going to change. They could change for the worse, or they could change for the better, or they could just be different, and not better or worse. But there are possibilities.

Documentaries are supposed to be impartial accounts, showing the viewer a breadth of evidence about a point of interest. I think it is ok for the documentary maker to stamp their opinion on the evidence they show you, but I think it becomes unprofessional when someone like Lambert brings their bitterness and resentment to their film. He clearly is carrying some scars from his past, but that is no excuse to not show the full range of evidence. I don’t think I am speaking for myself when I say that my parent’s divorce had a positive impact on my childhood. It helped me realise that I had two separate individuals in my life who would do anything to see me happy and healthy.

Although Olly Lambert chose a fascinating topic for study and produced a disarming honesty from his subjects, he let his deep rooted issues cause a bias in his presentation of children of divorce. I can only hope that this negative presentation is not taken as gospel by too many, because, Olly Lambert, not every child of divorce is damaged.

Mum and Dad are splitting up was first aired on BBC2 on Thursday 5th of September.

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