The Uncertain Kingdom collection of short films is a powerfully diverse commentary on 21st century Britain.
United?by Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Intended in a pre-pandemic world as a response to Theresa May’s proposed Festival of Britain in the midst of Brexit, this eclectic anthology of 20 short films about modern Britain feels just as timely and relevant in the uncertain times we all find ourselves in in 2020.
To create this unique view of present-day Britain producers Isabel Freer, Georgia Goggin, and John Jencks chose 10 established directors and 10 up-and-coming directors – with an equal gender split – to give them a platform to each make a statement about the Britain we live in today.
The result, told in two volumes, is an eye-opening and hugely diverse display of filmmaking reflecting 20 different viewpoints on issues including class, disability, homelessness, immigration, national identity, poverty and race.
Themes that emerge throughout include compassion, ignorance, kindness, isolation and the many contradictions and complexities of human behaviour and feelings.
Perfectly complementing the varied tapestry of ideas explored are the beautifully contrasting ways the directors each have chosen to tackle their chosen subject whether fiction or non-fiction; from documentary, fable, to surrealist comedy, hand-drawn animation and interpretative dance.
There are occasional appearances from familiar faces -– Mark Addy (The Full Monty) and Ruth Madeley (Years and Years) – but many varied and impressive contributions from lesser-known performers and non-actors.
Highlights include a beautifully soulful performance from Diana Bermudez as a Bolivian cleaner who discovers a magical healing tree while desperately trying to save her son dying from plastic pollution in director Paul Frankl’s The Life Tree.
Jason Wingard’s Pavement is a powerful and emotive commentary on homelessness as Katie (Liz White) fights to help a homeless man (Steve Evets) from literally sinking into the pavement but is met by a variety of indifferent attitudes.
From the poetic, to the gritty and visceral, the collection evokes a smorgasbord of feelings from the somber and upsetting to joyful and uplifting. But all feel authentic, in their own different ways, and all are thought provoking and meaningful, and combine to create a quite profound viewing experience.
It’s a shame that COVID-19 has halted a wonderful release tiered plan, including an emphasis on community screenings with the chance for viewers to contribute experiences but hopefully the project will reach a deserved wide and varied audience on demand.
The Uncertain Kingdom is available on demand on 1 June 2020 on BFI Player programmed in two feature-length volumes, which will also be available on iTunes, GooglePlay, Amazon & Curzon Home Cinema. In addition, The British Council will release the films internationally allowing their partners to view the films simultaneous to the UK release.
Three of the titles in the anthology will be available for free on the BFI’s social channels from 18 May: Verisimilitude (dir. David Proud) tells the story of an unemployed disabled actress (Ruth Madeley) who gets a job advising an obnoxious up-and-coming star how to perform a disability for his latest role. Lanre Malaolu’s The Conversation explores the challenges black people face when communicating their racial experience to white partners through a dynamic fusion of dance and dialogue. Carol Salter’s Left Coast is a documentary filmed in the coastal towns of Northwest England that follows dedicated volunteers, handing out kindness and food to help those left behind.
The online release replaces the cinema release of The Uncertain Kingdom, which was originally scheduled for 3 April 2020 before being cancelled due to coronavirus. The films will still screen in local communities later this year, inspiring and supporting conversation about the subjects explored.
Director: Ellen Evans (Life in Miniature – Sundance 2019)
Jamaican-born Brits who have been forcibly returned to their “home country” by the UK government describe their experiences.
ACRE FALL BETWEEN
Director: Antonia Campbell-Hughes (Q4L Quest for Love – Galway Film Fleadh 2019)
On a desolate Northern Ireland border, a man begins a desperate search for his family, knowing the future he feared is nigh.?
Director: Alison Hargreaves (producer of Inside Bitch at the Royal Court)
A reimagining of the Welsh legend of King Arthur, told by boys growing up in the Valleys with the quest of their own lives ahead of them.
Director: Ray Panthaki (Life Sentence – Best UK Short East End Film Festival 2013)
Under the influence of dangerous right-wing propaganda and his domineering father, a lonely school caretaker looks for connection.
Director: Sophie King (Uneatable – Channel 4)
A marriage is tested when the patriotic husband’s success in a citizenship challenge means he will soon be turned into a swan.
STRONG IS BETTER THAN ANGRY
Director: Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling)
A fists-bared, kickboxing, bleeding-nose look at who and what makes women angry right now – and what they do about it.
Director: Lab Ky Mo (Automat – Sky Arts 50)
The unexpected arrival of her mother and socialist brother threatens a Conservative candidate’s ambition to become the first female British-Chinese MP.
Director: Rebecca Lloyd-Evans (BAFTA nominated Missing Dad), Co-Director: Alex Fry
The return of the Goddess Astarte triggers an exploration of female sexuality through the personal fantasies of three women.
WE ARE NOT THE PROBLEM
Director: Dominika Ozynska (The Law of the Sea – Random Acts)
Seeing immigration from the perspective of a migrant, a Polish man describes what his countrymen people have contributed to the UK.
Director: Lanre Malaolu (Elephant in the Room – Roundhouse 2019)
Exploring the conversation black people?face when communicating their racial experience to white partners through a dynamic fusion of dance and?dialogue.
Director: Iggy LDN (Black Boys Don’t Cry)
In a rallying cry of protest, a young woman exposes the insidious ways brands use social media to disguise their true intentions.
Director: Jason Wingard (BIFA winning director of In Another Life and Eaten by Lions)
A modern parable about a woman who sees a homeless man literally sinking into the pavement and her attempts to save him in an indifferent world.
Director: Stroma Cairns (If You Knew – Jury Special Commendation BFI LFF 2019)
In the heat of a community gym’s sauna, a disparate group of Londoners gather nightly to open up about community, connection and faith.
ISAAC AND THE RAM
Director: Jason Bradbury (Alone My Friend – Cannes Straight8 2018)
Club security guard and former skinhead Hank reluctantly offers homeless gay teenager Isaac a place to stay for one tense night.
Director: Carol Salter (BIFA-winning Almost Heaven)
In the coastal towns of North West England, dedicated volunteers hand out kindness and food to help those left behind.
DEATH MEETS LISOLETTE
Director: Guy Jenkin (What We Did on Our Holiday)
After her neighbours become suddenly immortal, a young girl finds the Grim Reaper locked in a barn and amenable to making a deal for his freedom.
Director: David Proud
An unemployed disabled actress gets a job advising an obnoxious up-and-coming star how to perform a disability for his latest role.
BORROWED FROM OUR CHILDREN
Director: Leon Oldstrong (That’s Not Ours – LSFF 2019)
A series of vignettes celebrating love, community, protest and joy to remind us that though our hope may diminish it is reborn in our children.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Director: Runyararo Mapfumo (Dawn in the Dark – LFF 2019)
A handful of Brits explore the challenges they’ve encountered with their non-Western names and celebrate how their names express who they are.
THE LIFE TREE
Director: Paul Frankl (Roxanne – Flickers Rhode Island 2015)
The discovery of a healing tree brings hope to a Bolivian migrant whose son is close to death from plastic pollution.