KATHY KIERA CLARKE
a film by
MAY MILES THOMAS
Solid Air is a love letter to the victims of asbestos-related disease. I should know. My father suffered from asbestosis. I understand what the victims and families go through. I made this film because I wanted to see their stories on screen.
May Miles Thomas
Robert Houston is under sentence of death
Stricken with asbestosis Robert Houston is fighting for compensation from his employers. But the case has dragged on for years. Then his estranged son, Junior, comes home. Discovering the lapsed claim he confronts his father's ambitious young lawyer, Nicola Blyth. She demands he find a witness to testify in court.
This sets Junior on a life-changing journey as he learns of Robert’s past and how asbestos afflicts the lives of ordinary people. But Junior's quest for justice hides a terrible truth. A compulsive gambler deep in debt to a wealthy businessman, his only hope is to get his hands on his father's settlement.
With the search for a witness becoming ever more urgent, Robert's suspicions turn to torment as he learns of his son's deception. But then, confronted with a greater betrayal, father and son come to realise there is more at stake than the money.
May Miles Thomas tells why she had to make Solid Air
One cold, drizzling January morning at the Court of Session, Edinburgh, I stood with my father as he made a decision that effectively placed a cash value on his life.
Like thousands of men before and since, my father accepted the fact of his disease, asbestosis, with a stoicism common to most men of his class and generation. He also accepted the hopelessness of attempting to pursue his claim for compensation because, as his own lawyer was quick to emphasise, to enter Court with a civil case is a high risk.
I might forgive the process, the route to this outcome. I might accept the years it had taken to be in that place, only to witness the chicanery designed to achieve the required result. But never will I forget the look on my father's face as he made his decision about accepting an out-of-court settlement; the only kind that satisfies the other parties concerned. Here was the weight of an entire legal system bearing down on an individual, a decent man at the end of his working days, who was forced to shoulder the burden of proof against a faceless Defendant. In the end, it was about the money.
Had my father's case been unique, I suspect I would have let matters rest, rather than revisit the trauma of that day. But on learning that, in pursuit of a witness my father had discovered that an unseemly number of his colleagues had died of asbestos related diseases, the idea of creating a film based on their collective experience began to haunt me. We all lose our fathers one day, sure, but the unlawful nature of what will certainly be the cause of my father's premature death gave rise to an anger so strong that I felt compelled to seek a moral reprisal.
The fine line between empathy and sympathy made me wary of patronising those who can't articulate their dissent. But given my father's experience, I felt entitled, at least on his behalf, to attempt to express his plight within the framework of a fiction. I already knew the title would be Solid Air to describe the effects of this debilitating, progressive and fatal disease.
The idea of a man, a lonely divorcee, seeking personal injury compensation from his former employers soon developed into a broader tale linking the personal - the difficult relationship between a father and his estranged son - with the public - the iniquities of the Law and those who maintain it. As the script evolved, it occurred to me that the last thing I wanted to make was a worthy and prosaic drama. Solid Air would be morally significant, yes. Miserable and sermonizing, absolutely not.
To reach its natural audience, the film had to contain an element of entertainment, of glamour even. I arrived at the idea of gambling as motivation for the son, Junior, to pursue his father's claim in order to pay a debt. Gambling also served as a metaphor for a system of civil law so fraught with risk. What better way to illustrate the system than by placing a gambler at the heart of it?
Films are lumbering and expensive creatures and few filmmakers ever confess the truth of how they actually get made; they have to be willed into existence. The pitch for Solid Air was met with bemusement and rejection. A legal and gambling thriller about a man with an industrial disease? What I had in terms of an original story for the screen appeared to lack everything in terms of commercial, mass market appeal.
For three years I made tough decisions as potential executive producers and financiers came, saw, reneged, lied, cheated but mostly ignored - business as usual in an industry where all that is solid melts into air. Yet with faith and perseverance the budget finally came together and a shoot could take place on location in and around Glasgow.
But to dwell on those negatives does not serve those three years of work accomplished with commitment and sincerity, or those who inspired the story. Nor does it serve the audience, many of whom crave an antidote to the formulaic.
Sometimes a film arrives from nowhere, without the weight of the industry machine, that touches people's hearts because they believe in the people they're watching and in the story being told. I hope Solid Air can be such a film but, as the filmmaker, I'm no longer in a position to tell. Just as I stood outside the Court with my father, I can only look on while the chips fall where they may.
screenwriter editor & director
MAY MILES THOMAS
CAROLYNNE SINCLAIR KIDD
BOBBY JAMES HENRY
director of photography
CAROLE K MILLER