Director: Bruce Vigar
Screenplay: Bruce Vigar
BBFC Certification: E
For most people, documentaries probably aren’t their go to choice when it comes to deciding what to watch on a Saturday night. Which, if we are being honest, is a shame because when they are done well, they can be just as thrilling, emotional, hilarious and illuminating as anything narrative cinema can offer.
Of course, a lot of this depends on the subject matter. It is always refreshing when what can seem dry and odd on paper (a man befriending an Octopus, say) turns out to be Oscar winning emotional rollercoaster (My Octopus Teacher). Equally, it is incredibly frustrating when what should be great documentary material (say, a new look at The Blitz) is turned into something dry, dull and poorly made.
The Blitz itself should need no introduction. The German bombing raids that devastated London and other UK industrial cities during the Second World War has long been engrained upon the national consciousness. Yet the Blitz’s iconography, such as sleeping in Underground stations, the dome of St. Paul’s standing defiant against the flames of the burning city, or the term ‘Blitz Spirit’ being rolled out any time a member of the British public smiles in the face of adversity, has arguably become so dominant and prevalent as to dilute the actual experience of what it was actually like to live through The Blitz itself.
Released to coincide with the 80th anniversary (specifically the anniversary of the end of the first round of German bombing raids that concluded in May 1941) The Blitz 80th Anniversary is a new documentary that purports to offer a new insight into how ordinary people managed to survive, along with never before seen archive footage and powerful interviews from those who experienced it. What The Blitz 80th Anniversary turns out to be is a dull, confused slog through a regurgitation of familiar facts delivered with as much thrill and pathos as secondary school educational video.
Things start off badly through an strangely undramatic opening that throws the audience straight into a potted history of the Battle of Britain with barely a pause for breath. The start of The Blitz itself (named Black Saturday) is slotted in almost as footnote. This is unfortunately emblematic for everything that follows. The documentary lunches from topic to topic almost at random, where information is thrown at the viewer in a scattergun approach that makes the narrative unfocused and confusing. A clear, chronological history of The Blitz this most certainly is not.
Things aren’t helped at all by the cheap production values and at times bizarre editorial choices. At one point, despite being about an event that happened in London eighty years ago, the film illustrates a piece of voiceover with low quality helicopter footage of modern London that looks like it was cobbled together from B-Roll footage taken from The Apprentice. Bad library music hovers under harrowing archive footage that only serves to cheapen things even further and, most egregious of all, the film even appears unfinished at points. After one interview the music suddenly cuts out with no warning and at times the sound mix lurches so dramatically in volume as to drown out the voiceover and interviewees.
It has to be said that there is a certain degree of interest to be gleaned from the interviews. The archive footage (I have no idea what is meant to be new) is of course fascinating but, if you have seen any other number of World War Two documentaries or films, it feels incredibly familiar.
If you are interested in The Blitz as a subject, please, please watch episodes four and fifteen (Alone and Home Fires) of the seminal 1970s television series The World at War or Humphrey Jennings’ still stunning contemporary documentary Fires Were Started instead.
Lacking gravitas, production values or almost any redeeming features save the interviews and archive footage, The Blitz 80th Anniversary is poorly thought out and put together, at times coming across as little better than a dated video designed to bore high school students into submission. As one of the most devastating and pivotal events to occur in Britain in the last one hundred years, The Blitz deserved a far better commemoration that this.
The Blitz 80th Anniversary is released on DVD and Digital on the 10th May 2021.