Andy Hilton reviews That Summer Day, a short film by Clive Bradley.
It took more than four years for the first piece of “9/11 art” to hit the mainstream in the USA. In Britain, the release of the short film That Summer Day, written by Workers’ Liberty supporter Clive Bradley, marks only the first anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. The scales of the atrocities were, clearly, different, but it is nonetheless interesting that Britain’s mainstream media seems more willing to deal with the issue sooner than its American counterparts were with 9/11.
The film – made for children and aired on BBC 1’s “Children’s BBC” slot on Friday July 7 – is a sophisticated and well-made attempt to look meaningfully at how an event like a terrorist attack impacts on the lives of ordinary people.
The themes of the film’s slick opening montage are clear; as its characters (all comprehensive school children) wake up and get ready for school against the backdrop of early morning news reports of London’s successful Olympic bid, the film speaks of new beginnings, hope and aspiration. It’s not particularly complex, but the startlingly impressive performances from the child actors as well as the accomplished camerawork prevent it from being at all heavy-handed.
The bombings themselves are dealt with expertly. As with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, there are no tacky explosions or chaotic rescue scenes. The only real chaos is in the film’s portrayal of the “ordered chaos” of London city life, and the power that the film might attempt to provide by displaying scenes of explosions or burnt out buses is provided in ample measure by the reactions of the characters as they gradually learn of what has taken place. Undoubtedly, the film’s target audience restricts the nature of the material that might have been included, but there’s no sense that the film needs such scenes (explosions etc.) anyway.
Writing a film for CBBC is going to impose its own restrictions, but comrade Bradley manages to land the odd blow for our side. One character, Marie, is mocked by her friend for reading a novel. When asked what the novel’s about, Marie replies ‘god’. But we can see that the book in question is, in fact, Phillip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, part of his magnum-opus three-volume assault on god, religion and the church. What Pullman might have to say about the psychopathic religious zeal of the bombers will be obvious to anyone familiar with his work, and the decision to have Marie read that particular book is unquestionably deliberate.
The way in which the film uses bullying as a metaphor for the bombings (and specifically the theft of one character’s phone by another, carried out as an act of retribution for damage done to hers) is somewhat crass. The moral messages are obvious (two wrongs don’t make a right, an eye for an eye makes justice blind etc. etc.), but it is perhaps a rare moment of over-simplification in a film that otherwise does not at all patronise its young audience.
In its forty minutes, the film cannot touch too heavily on the “bigger” issues around the attacks (although the racist backlash against Muslims is abruptly and shockingly conveyed). It is not a film about geopolitics (let alone class politics) or about terrorism. It is a film about the impact that events like this have on the lives of ordinary, working-class people.
It is stylish, well-produced and, for a children’s film, remarkably sophisticated without ever threatening to become unintelligible. If it has a message, it is perhaps to reassert that at the heart of ever tragedy and atrocity are human beings. Perhaps it can play some part in reminding morally bewildered elements of the left that our role is to stand up for those human beings against senseless, anti-working class terror in Iraq, Palestine, New York and London.