Netflix UK film review: David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
Ivan Radford | On 10, Apr 2021
Director: Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes, Keith Scholey
Cast: David Attenborough
Where to watch A Life on Our Planet online in the UK: Netflix UK
“I am 93. This is my witness statement.” So speaks Sir David Attenborough as he records A Life on Our Planet, a documentary that’s his most personal work to date – and plays like a hand-written letter sent directly to your living room, dripping with capital-letter urgency.
Attenborough has always been the voice of calm knowledge in the world of natural filmmaking, soothingly talking us through the behaviour of the animal kingdom with insight and warmth. In recent years, that affection has brought with it a growing sense of frustration, as direct-to-camera addresses about the importance of tackling climate change close out impassioned series finales. A Life on Our Planet, which looks back on his 70 years in broadcasting, could be an indulgent piece of hagiography, but a note of anger blasts away sense of self-promotion.
The film takes us all the way back through his career, from a young man with an eye for fossils and a thrill at being able to travel to different places and share their wonders with audiences at home. But that familiar montage of archive footage is laced with an ominous sense of peril, as the advancements in TV broadcasting and human progress are juxtaposed with figures writ large on screen: the falling volume of natural wilderness remaining on the planet, the rising level of carbon dioxide.
Throughout, Attenborough is a talking head whose clarity and accessible turn of phrase proves equally comforting and unsettling, talking of how the spread of humankind across the globe has left the place overrun. In a matter of decades, he warns, the plummeting rainforest levels will leave the world’s water balance out of kilter, causing unimaginable horrors for nature and for us. “We need to rediscover how to be sustainable,” he concludes.
There is hope, however, in the growth of solar power in Morocco, in the potential for fishing to be curbed and for plant-based diets to flourish, in the success of reforestation schemes. That Attenborough illustrates this through the resilience of nature in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster is at once inspiring and alarming. If this is Attenborough’s most personal work to date, here’s hoping that it leads to individual, personal efforts for change.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.