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Derek O'Connell ...
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27 August 2007 (UK)  »

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Enjoyable and well-structured quirkumentary
1 October 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Although the career is dying out, Thames Water still employs several groups of men to walk the sewers. Where once the profession involved hundreds of men clearing blockages and shovelling stuff along, now a lot of inspection is done from the surface and clearances need only be moved to the nearest manhole where it can be pumped out. Some of the men are coming to the end of their careers and retirement sees positions opened up and a need for new blood. This film follows a couple of old hands on the job (so to speak) and some new boys getting to grips with working underground.

Another enjoyable quirkumentary from the BBC. By this I mean that it is one of many documentaries that spend an hour with a group of people with a job, hobby or lifestyle that is quirky (not just unusual). I call the genre quirkumentary but others might prefer just relating what I mean directly to the sort of thing that Louis Theroux has done so well for years. Anyway in this case the subject is one that is reasonably close to my heart because, covering waste management as part of my role at work, I am all too aware that the least glamorous jobs often need to be done but few people give it a thought.

This film takes the genre route through the subject by following some good characters through their life, using the "plot" device of one of the old hands retiring to give the film a structure. It is a handy device but it does work well enough for what the film needs. As with all these things the real gold is in the characters and these good ol' working men types are solid. I felt for some at times and the film is affectionate about their careers – which I appreciated rather than scoring easy laughs off it. The characters reward director Clews by being good sports who let their lives be held up. I forget his name but I did feel for the 35 year old guy living with his mum who tries and fails to chat up two girls (who look about 18 at most) when he starts talking about his work (his non-PC stumble over what to call "gays" was funny though). The rest are interesting and I did "enjoy" the chance to see what it is like to move around below the city, while also being glad that it is one of those jobs that "someone else" does.

Overall then an enjoyable quirkumentary that has an interesting subject and characters and has a good structure to hold it together. Those who like the gene will enjoy this, word of advise though, don't be eating while you watch it.


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