“Children of geniuses tend to have a rather hard time of it. If you’re a genius you have to be a bit tough”, says Unity Spencer daughter of Stanley Spencer, one of Britain’s greatest artists.
Stanley’s visionary art, his obsession with his work and the drama of his relationships described as, ‘the most bizarre domestic soap opera in the history of British art’, wreaked havoc on his family.
The break-up with his first wife, fellow-artist Hilda Carline, was traumatic for his daughters Unity and Shirin. So too, was the fiasco of their father’s second marriage to self-confessed lesbian, Patricia Preece.
After Stanley and Hilda’s divorce the daughters were separated and only now, in old age, have they come together again. In the summer of 2016 Unity packed up her Clapham home of 40 years, boxed up her old life, her father’s drawings, sketchbooks and letters and moved to Wales to be close to Shirin. With Unity’s son John, Stanley’s grandson, they are living together for the first time.
The film explores the sisters’ relationship – fractured, fraught but ultimately loving – as they try to understand and reclaim their father. Unity, 87, and Shirin, 91, begin a late rapprochement and attempt to become a family again. Through them, the film provides an insight into Stanley’s life, motivations and his art – offering a completely fresh take on one of Britain’s and the 20th century’s greatest artists.
The film was made over a period of 18 months charting Shirin and Unity’s new life. Sadly just after filming was completed Unity died, passing away quietly in her sleep after a short illness. A coda was added to film where Shirin and John reflect on what the past year and a half meant to them and Unity.
The film was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award for Best Factual Director and for a Grierson for Best Arts Film.
An extraordinary documentary….Francis Hanly made this strange, moving, funny, sad film just in time.
Sam Wollaston – The Guardian
Remarkable story of two elderly sisters.
Matt Baylis – The Daily Express
That Frank Hanly was there to capture the sisters last year together fills me with admiration: for both him and for Arena’s long serving editor, Anthony Wall
Rachel Cooke – The New Statesman