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BFI London Film Festival


LFF

Running with both live and virtual premieres across 12 days in Octobe: 7-18 October 2020

 


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LFF - Incendiary

Saturday evening saw two premiers, Sandra’s new boots (shiny, heeled, might have been a buckle) and Incendiary, Sharon Maguire’s take on Chris Cleave’s novel. The film stars Michelle Williams (with an uncanny London accent) as the Young Mother, Ewan McGregor as ambitious journalist Jasper Black and Matthew Macfadyen as chief of anti-terrorism and caravan fan, Terrance. The movie deals with the aftermath of a massive terrorist attack in London in which Williams’ husband and son are killed. McGregor’s character only escapes because he and Williams are at it on her council estate sofa when the bombs go off. What follows is both the study of the Young Mother’s grief and a sort of investigation into how the bombing occurred, with a couple of other sub-plots thrown in for good measure.

 

Let’s start with what works – Michelle Williams, that’s what works about this film. She really carries the emotional heart of Incendiary and, despite her character’s obvious flaws; you are drawn to her enough to empathise with all that she is going through. The relationship with her murdered son and how her world falls apart when he is gone is played out brilliantly. There is such an emotional core at the centre of this film that both myself and the lovely lady next to me were reduced to tears, regularly (thankfully I had enough tissues for us both). The Dr Who style floating barrage balloons in memory of the dead across London’s sky line are a particularly effective image – although I don’t think there were 1,000 of them. And Maguire has created a kind of beauty in this London of council estates and fear and trips to Camber Sands.

 

But Incendiary just doesn’t hang together, because it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Maguire’s adaptation of Cleave’s novel was heavily influenced by her own motherhood and therefore she seeks hope and new life, which I get the impression is missing from Cleave’s original work. The result is some confusing additions – Williams’ character befriending the son of one of the suicide bombers being the primary example – and a neat ending which doesn’t really answer any questions, but attempts to leave you with a happy feeling. At times you think we’re going to have a thriller, with Jasper investigating what really happened and Terrance being challenged on the police’s role. But then that sort of fades to nothing. One brief conversation about the nature of war and the sacrifices that must be made again goes no where. And Macfadyen (of whom I am a massive fan) is totally miscast here; he’s tall and young and gorgeous, he’s Mr Darcy for god’s sake, and he is at least 20 years away from being the kind but unattractive caravan fanatic that Maguire has him attempt here. It just doesn’t work.

 

As a response to the July 7th London bombings, it is a slightly hysterical, knee-jerk one. I get the impression that Maguire wants us all to be as paranoid and she is by portraying this monumental disaster and how easily it could happen. Followed by armed police patrolling the street, prepared to shoot on sight anyone that looks vaguely suspicious. I would like to make it clear right here and now, that I live in London, travel by Tube everyday and am not fearful of terror attacks on a daily basis, I do not subscribe to this idea that we are all looking over our shoulders waiting for the big attack.

 

Some friends of mine who also were at the screening absolutely hated it; one even claimed it was the worst thing he had ever seen. I think that’s going too far, it’s a mess, that’s for certain, but a well intentioned mess with an actress at its centre who is so good, you could almost (almost) forgive the rest.

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