London #LabourFilmFest Day 1 – Big Society: The Musical and Rosetta

The London Labour Film Festival started tonight with the premiere of Big Society – The Musical.  I have to say I’m not really fond of musicals and the title put me off a bit but this film deserves an audience.  When I saw the list of films for this festival a few weeks back my immediate thought was that anything with Big Society in the title would likely be an ill judged comedy. It also stuck me that David Cameron’s great idea had gone off the boil somewhat and the Tories had stopped talking about it.  With perfect timing the Prime Minister decided to name Jesus as his inspiration for the idea and I suspect that the Cameron years might well become defined by his desire to cut services on the one hand and hope that volunteers pick up the work on the other.

This film deals exactly with that relationship.  Writer / director Lynne Harwood has crafted a story around characters who already work and live in a big society.  When jobs and services get cut it has a devastating effect.  In this case the story revolves around the relationship between a social worker and a young offender.  The two leads put in strong performances on both the acting and singing front.  This has some feelgood musical moments but it doesn’t sugar coat the cuts.  By interweaving historical events such as the riots and the royal wedding into the narrative, along with the excellent score and songs this film takes you somewhere.  That place is your community. In the Q&A after the screening the cast and crew spoke of how their community in Liverpool helped them make the movie.  With settings such as youth offending centres, social work centres, police stations and the need for fire rescue during filming they were helped by the very people and workers this film is about.  The film is therefore situated where it counts: at the coalface of the cuts agenda. That agenda has actually eroded our big society.  It reminded me of an article written by David Graeber a few weeks back where he talks about austerity as an attack on working class empathy.  This film shows how austerity can force people to make decisions they shouldn’t have to and with each decision there are consequences.

This film deserves to be seen.  Click on the link above and spread the word.


Rosetta won the Palme d’Or in 1999.  This Belgium film concerns a young woman living on a caravan park with her alcoholic mother, trying to get and keep a job.  I have to say it is a pretty dour film.  Big Society – The Musical wasn’t a bed of roses but at least there was some music. Rosetta is a depressing story, following an unlikable character (she’s self centred and ruthless), in a drab town, mainly in the rain.  It would have been good for the first night to have had something a little more jolly.  The labour movement has a tendency at times to wallow in the misery of capitalism.  I hope we have a few movies to show how we face those challenges and win.

Both films are worthy of their places in the festival.  Both are very thought provoking but I can’t see myself sitting through Rosetta again.  I can very much see myself giving Big Society – The Musical another viewing.  The highlight of the evening though was a 3 minute excerpt from the forthcoming Tony Benn film Will and Testament.  This actually looks like it will be very interesting and a fitting tribute to the man himself.



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