VOD film review: The Uncertain Kingdom – Volumes I & II
Laurence Boyce | On 25, Jun 2020
Director: Hope Dickson Leach, Carol Salter, Iggy LDN, Ray Panthaki, Antonia Campbell-Hughes
Cast: Alice Lowe, Steve Evets, Mark Addy, Hugh Dennis, Andy Hamilton, Paul Kaye
Watch The Uncertain Kingdom online in the UK: BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
To say that the UK has been going through some tough times over the past few years is something of an understatement. Political division, protests in the streets, a confused sense of national identity and the UK’s place in the world: the coronavirus pandemic has been the particularly bitter icing on an over-baked and inedible cake.
Over two volumes, The Uncertain Kingdom showcases 20 short films that provide a snapshot on the current state of the UK while reflecting on these chaotic times. Filmmakers across the country focus on topics such as Brexit, immigration and race, which all unsurprisingly loom large in the selection. But the anthology also deals with a myriad of other ideas, including sexuality, gender, identity and disability.
Both volumes of The Uncertain Kingdom are worthy watches, all providing food for thought as well as showcasing the work of a number of talented and diverse directors. Each of the films take an eclectic set of approaches to their topics with dark drama nestling next to light comedy, snappy animations side by side with thoughtful and creative documentaries.
Here are a selection of three titles from each volume that provide a glimpse of what you can discover within our Uncertain Kingdom:
Volume I: Ernie (Dir. Ray Panthaki)
An almost unrecognisable Paul Kaye gives a tour-de-force performance as the titular character in this compelling and sometimes disturbing tale of the desperate human need to form a connection. Ernie is an awkward school caretaker cowed by his domineering and right-wing father (a similarly almost-unrecognisable Steven Berkoff). Trying to find comfort in the arms of someone his father will disapprove of, Ernie’s disappointment, loss and rage will soon come to tragic conclusion. Ernie is a dark exploration of bigotry and sexuality all told through the prism of the EU referendum and the amplifying dangers of right-wing propaganda.
Volume I: Acre Fall Between (Dir. Antonia Campbell-Hughes)
Northern Irish actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes – known for her turns in such shows as Lead Balloon – continues to blossom as a director with her latest effort, a surreal affair in which a man searches for his family on the Northern Irish border. Waking up in a deserted world, he has to try and make some sense of what is going on. This has a nightmarish quality, with Lynchian overtones couched within a very British suburbia. The uncertainty and strangeness of the film is very much reflective of the time in which we live, with nothing ever seeming to make total sense and the notion of reality proving more than fluid.
Volume I: Motherland (Dir. Ellen Evans)
A documentary following the experience of Jamaican-born Brits who are forcibly returned to their ‘home’ despite the fact that the UK is all they have ever known. A damning indictment of the inflexibility UK Immigration system – as well as a sobering example of the UK government’s betrayal of the Windrush Generation – director Evans allows the protagonists to tell their stories as they deal with not only being strangers in a strange land but also trying to come to terms with the fact that they identify as British despite the fact that the only country they have ever known has effectively disowned them.
Volume II: Sucka Punch (Dir. Iggy LDN)
A short and – pardon the pun – punchy examination of the way in which brands use social media to help them hide their corporate and capitalistic desires. Playing with audience expectation (the end is a clever and pointed explanation of how ads can whip consumers up into a frenzy) Sucka Punch is a consistently intriguing slice of satire that will make you think twice about the next social media ads you see.
Volume II: Left Coast (Dir. Carol Salter)
An earnest look at food banks in Blackpool and the work of the volunteers and their tireless efforts to hand out food. Salter doesn’t concentrate on the whys and wherefores of what drives people to these places, instead focusing on the work of those who see demand for their services ever increasing. With the beginning of the film showing abundant shelves that become increasingly bare as the documentary wears on, Salter’s film becomes an expose of the fact that – in a first-world country – there are still millions of adults and children who live in poverty. But for all its tragic insight, there is also a glimmer of hope thanks to the volunteers showing us that there are people out there who want to make a change.
Volume II: Pavement (Dir. Jason Wingard)
A homeless man begins to sink into the ground, and one woman tries to save him. But the world around her is indifferent to his plight. Wingard’s film is not exactly subtle, populated by a world of grotesques such as the security guards who only care about keeping the area clear of the manager worried only about bank property. But its forthrightness is what makes this parable so moving, alongside a great performance from the always-brilliant Steve Evets. A reminder of how we can all strive to make a difference even with faced with a world that doesn’t care.