Floods cross our screens from time to time, and with apparently increasing frequency. But for those in affected communities, the impacts don’t vanish as quickly as they land. Kevin Macdonald, an Oscar-winning director of both docs and dramas, takes up the story, melding powerful interviews with gobsmacking footage from helicopters, archival news reports and handheld mobile phones. We roam from the Somerset levels to the crumbling Norfolk coast, and Hebden Bridge to Howick in the Borders, where a resident describes the third wipeout of his house in a decade as being like hit yet again by a superior boxer. Even Portobello Market publicans are vulnerable to the blows of flash flooding.
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There are green shoots in the mud and effluent carpeting these towns. Neighbours drop everything, almost literally, to help each other. The civic refuge of the town hall feels like day after night to those entering its warm, crowded embrace. A community of Sikhs from Slough becomes a kind of voluntary paratrooper unit: “My name is Ravi. Would you like to hold the bag or shovel sand?” They also serve up meals so good it prompts one waggish northerner to quip “if this is what it takes to bring good curry to Hebden, well…”. But the film doesn’t spare us either the shocking science from Met Office contributors, or the lasting impact on the mental health of victims, who subsequently tense up at the first drop of rain.
Sean O’Grady in the Independent laments that the “powerful and compelling testimony” in this film hasn’t led any more effective system of flood defences. Nor changes in policies exacerbating the extreme weather demanding it: “It’s a timely and compelling programme for COP26 week.” Over on i news Emily Baker quotes the Environment Agency telling us that “one in six people in the UK are at risk of their homes being flooded”; something the film warns may triple by 2050. She thinks it’s “a testament to the power of community and the resilience of humans, but a call to pay attention to the changing climate.”
The Telegraph’s Ed Power is thankful that Macdonald “skipped the sermonising” and finds the documentary to be “more than merely a warning”; it was also “meditative… and quietly uplifiting”. If the Prime Minister is right in recently declaring this newspaper to be his “real boss”, there’s hope he may meditate on this film and uplift with the power of government.
First shown November 2021.