What to say if you liked it
Dan Cruickshank used the recently restored pre-World War One film by entrepreneurs Mitchell and Kenyon to shape a vivid portrait of England.
What to say if you didn’t like it
A lurid, historical makeover show in which dull, old films of fetid citizens was used to illustrate how much better things are today.
What was good about it?
• Dan Cruickshank’s obvious passion for the silent source material which he coloured in with documentary evidence of what life was like in the 1900s.
• The rugby match where the player’s belts were circled in a similar orbit to Simon Cowell’s waistband, and also featured a neck high tackle in which the ball carrier was almost decapitated.
• Acute vignettes of everyday life that could quite easily have been filmed last week such as the surly young man, not too keen to be filmed, who flicked an aggressive v-sign to the director, and the little boys having a snowball fight outside a factory.
• The anonymous films were enhanced by the commentary of relatives of people who worked in the factories captured on camera. We found out that fast food was initiated when both parents were too busy at work to prepare meals for their kids, so cafes started selling ready made snacks.
• Mitchell and Kenyon’s early efforts at expanding their sketches of real-life into dreadful dramas where cowboys randomly shot at each other and Romany women cowered in terror. Still, the plot was more complex and the acting better than in EastEnders.
• The visual morphing of the metropolitan transport system. At the start of the century the transport was evolving through the gradual introduction of cars, “safety” bicycles and electric trams, all of which usurped the horse and cart.
• Visible examples of societal trends such as advertising on trams; the lack of old people because of life expectation was no greater than 50; and the rise of the unions.
What was bad about it?
• As the congregating crowds were often staged by Mitchell and Kenyon through the enticement of seeing themselves on film later, most of the people were the kind who today who moronically shout “Hello, mum” while local news crews are at work.
• The knowledge that everyone in the films, from the puzzled toddlers to the aloof handlebar moustachioed patriarchs, is dead. Sometimes Cruickshank had to audibly fill the silent films with tales of appalling working conditions that are already common knowledge to anyone with even a small understanding of industrial history.
• The lack of coherence in a narrative determined by the arbitrary collection of films sometimes gave a fragmented feel.