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Here is an absorbing and heartening documentary portrait of Basildon in Essex, conceived as a super-modern utopian development for the forelock-tugging working classes after the second world war.
The film periodically has Jim Broadbent reading the sonorous words of Clement Attlee’s planning minister Lewis Silkin on the subject of how wonderful it’s going to be. And the odd thing is that Christopher Ian Smith’s film doesn’t fall into the trap of simply making it look horrible. With interestingly composed shots of various parts of Basildon – importantly just the architecture and landscaping without any of the people that could make it look untidy – it does look good, or at least interesting.
There is an eerie futurism to Basildon sometimes, though, more often, it looks depressed. One interviewee compares the Laindon shopping centre to something from East Germany. Smith tracks Basildon’s postwar history as a Labour stronghold with lots of manufacturing jobs (“Moscow-on-the-Thames”) until the loss of these and Mrs Thatcher’s right-to-buy council house policy turned Essex blue.
The film talks about Basildon’s scary and tough reputation as a place where looking at someone the wrong way in a pub will earn you a visit to A&E. But most importantly, Smith suggests that Basildon will find its 21st-century salvation in the arts. It is already a place of pilgrimage for fans of Depeche Mode, who got their start there. Punk was thriving in Basildon. Community arts flourished. Arnold Wesker wrote a play for the town. And now old-fashioned painters are being encouraged to exhibit in Basildon.
It is an unapologetically upbeat film in which utopianism is taken unexpectedly seriously.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: New Town Utopia review – how Basildon was delivered to the future | Documentary films