New Town Utopia

Review by Malika Kingston @MalikaSheila

Directed by

Christopher Ian Smith

Starring

Jim Broadbent Terry Bird Vincent O’Connell

Anticipation.

A tale about a long forgotten British new town.

Enjoyment.

A provocative look at Basildon as seen through the eyes of the artists who live there.

In Retrospect.

An inspirational film about the power of art, but slow moving and a little forgettable.

This intriguing essay piece examines the past, present and future of an English “new town”.

What does it mean to live in a place that was once thriving and prosperous? New Town Utopia, directed by Christopher Ian Smith, is a documentary which poses this question by collating the accounts of artists who grew up and still live in the purpose built “new town” of Basildon, Essex. It takes a close look at the original vision of this urban haven, how it has since failed and left it’s people with the job of picking up the pieces.

The film comprises of intimate reminisces from residents of Basildon. We discover that the town was built to be the answer to the near impossible living costs of London, a futuristic utopia with no segregation and opportunity for all. Its makers employed striking architectural aesthetics so residents could be proud of and excited by the landscape. But it didn’t quite work out like that.

The documentary features actor Jim Broadbent intoning an ironic narration as the camera flicks through fixed frames and dolly camera shots of the now desolate and cold town. Broadbent’s hopeful references to this purportedly perfect living space directly contradict the visuals that are shown.

Smith occasionally inserts clips of old home videos which show happy residents, at a time when Basildon was its prime. But as the documentary continues it reveals the cause of the town’s unraveling: government mismanagement. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as it becomes clear that from desolation springs creativity, and this might be the outlet for Basildon’s eventual evolution.

This measured and hushed essay film is peppered with impromptu spoken word performances directed at the camera which adds weight to argument of the necessity of the arts. Unfortunately, it’s still all a little too slow moving, and at times takes some effort to remain engaged due to the washed-out colours and a general lack of excitement. It’s not an entirely harsh critique agains Basildon, as it is about how these places contain the potential to one day thrive again.

Published 4 May 2018

Anticipation.

A tale about a long forgotten British new town.

Enjoyment.

A provocative look at Basildon as seen through the eyes of the artists who live there.

In Retrospect.

An inspirational film about the power of art, but slow moving and a little forgettable.

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