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London's Burning (2011)
Everyone should remember this year's riots and how it effected the public. I wasn't aware of the riots until the third night it happened due to my detachment from television at the time. However, the events that happened really did frighten me and fueled my habit of being a worry merchant but the images I saw being reported did make me think that a documentary or dramatization would be produced soon after. So I wasn't surprised when Channel 4 announced a docudrama based on the Clapham junction riot titled "London's Burning" and was eager to watch it. Unfortunately, I missed the air date because I was working on film of my own that night and forgot completely all about it.
So, tonight I took the time to watch it because it turned out to be only a 47 minute long feature. "London's Burning" focuses on four groups of people and how they were effected by the riots and I have to admit that the introduction of these characters were a bit cheesy but served as important plot points. Then, when the film started building up the rioter's arrival into Clapham junction, THAT was when I realised "London's Burning" was more than just your everyday TV Movie. Due to the film's choice of placing the audience into the perspective of the riot's victims, we are thrown into the nightmarish images that some citizens witnessed when confronted by the rioters.
The direction stands out the most I have to say, with brilliant choices of shots, heavy use of hand-held cinematography and fantastic decisions concerning where the camera cuts to or focuses on. "London's Burning" turns from a soap drama atmosphere to a cinematic thriller as we're put face to face with confronting rioters. However, the writing isn't exactly impressive and we don't get to know much about the victims themselves but the scenes that focus on the police are fantastic, as grown men discuss how they're working with rumors from Twitter. Modern technology is a running theme in the film, it reflects on how some people underestimate the power and importance of the internet.
Another highlight of "London's Burning" has to be how much archive footage is used, it's a phenomenal amount that is spliced with people's reactions and feature the original audio instead of being muted or dubbed with sentimental music. The original audio of the riot footage is terrifying to hear, it's chaotic noise that clouds the visuals themselves. The acting? Well, it's nothing impressive but there's no wooden performances, everyone gets into their roles without over acting. Now, what about the factual side? It's a docudrama so of course it features facts about the night but it's all done by subtitles rather than narrative commentary or via talking head interviews and this really let me down. Sure, I'm happy to read facts but it would have been more interesting with a voice over or an interview with the victims or the police.
"London's Burning" is gripping, terrifying and decently directed by Justin Hardy but it suffers from a lack of character development and the introduction of the characters is very bland. It's also way too short and almost flies by, this made the film feel insignificant compared to the scale of the reality of what happened. It's worth seeing for sure but don't expect something as epic as it could have potentially been.