Documentary-maker Nick Broomfield’s first dramatic feature since his ill-fated toff murder tale Diamond Skulls some 17 years ago, Ghosts traces the events leading up to the drowning of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers in February 2004 off Morecambe Bay. Like other recent Brit pseudo documentaries - Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, Michael Winterbottom’s In this World and Perry Ogden’s Pavee Lackeen - this digitally shot work blurs the traditional distinctions between ‘reality’ and fiction. Indeed, the hand-held camerawork, the natural lighting, the authentic locations and the non-professional cast help contribute to the film’s verisimilitude.
Ghosts focuses on the plight of Ai Qin (Ai Qin Lin), a young mother from China who borrows $25,000 from a Snakehead gang to be smuggled into the UK. Having survived a gruelling six-month journey overland, she takes up a series of woefully paid factory and agricultural jobs. The exploitation of this woman is relentless: employment agencies cream off extra money from her wages and her rented accommodation, provided by the fixer Mr Lin (Zhan Yu), turns out to be a filthy two-bedroom house in Norfolk shared with a dozen fellow illegal immigrants. Back in China the moneylenders are threatening her family over the re-payment of her debts.
The title of this powerful and sincere film has a double meaning. On one level it’s the word used by Chinese people to describe Westerners, yet it also reflects the way our own affluent society chooses to ignore the exploitation endured by the likes of Ai Qin, who are forced to toil beneath a minimum wage in conditions akin to slavery.