Tish, the new film from Edinburgh-based documentarian Paul Sng, is a moving portrait of photographer Tish Murtha and the powerful photographs she took documenting working-class Britain in the Thatcher era

Film Review by Anna Ireland | 13 Nov 2023
  • Tish
Film title: Tish
Director: Paul Sng
Starring: Ella Murtha, Maxine Peake (voice)
Release date: 17 Nov
Certificate: 12A

Striking workers in the pub; children playing amongst rubble; a young girl selling cigarettes. These are the subjects of Tish Murtha's extraordinary black-and-white photography, and they fill the screen in Paul Sng's poignant documentary, casting a shadow long after they're gone. 

Using a camera found in a derelict building in her hometown in Elswick, Newcastle, Murtha documented the community she grew up in. Immersed in the lives of the unseen and underserved – from the hardscrabble streets of South Shields to Soho's strip clubs – her photos show people resilient in the face of the hardship, unemployment and poverty of Thatcherism. Murtha's photographs, if only for the period of a flash, brought them to the light.

Sng's documentary is built around Murtha’s images and words (read by Maxine Peak), and steered by the loving anchor of Murtha's daughter, Ella. Unpacking memories with family members, friends and mentors, a respect for Murtha's fierce talent and her unshakable world-view echoes throughout these tender conversations. In the film, as in her work, joy and pain exist side by side.

Tish is a rare opportunity to see the work of an artist and activist who was largely unrecognised by the artistic class of her day. Her vision of a fairer society burns white-hot throughout the film and, for the shutter-click of an image, we are Murtha's eyes to the pain, joy and relentlessness of her circumstances. That she didn't achieve the acclaim she deserved in her lifetime makes this moving, forceful portrait of her life all the more impactful

Released 17 Nov by Modern Film; certificate 12A
Tish is the closing film of the Central Scotland Documentary Festival, Stirling, on 6 Nov, and there are additional preview Q&As throughout Nov (including Cameo in Edinburgh, 2 Nov and GFT, 18 Nov). Full details at modernfilms.com/tish