Citadel (Review)

The short film shot from a filmmaker’s room during lockdown has already become somewhat of a cliché (Mati Diop’s In My Room being a highlight of the genre). This view out of a London window during Covid lockdown fits firmly into that category, but filmmaker John Smith adds a political edge that makes this stand out.

At its best, this film is an important record of the dangerous nonsense Boris Johnson has been spreading throughout the pandemic, and before. We start with a view of London and hear Johnson’s words about how we need to keep buying and selling, that Coronavirus will not stop international trade. That the UK needs to the the leading nation that steps forward – he even specifically links the nation to Superman. We see this speech is from February 2020 and are now able to appreciate it, more than ever, for the nonsense it always was. The only difference between watching it now and then is that our understanding of how things went in 2020, and how they continue to go, shows it to be deeply dangerous nonsense. We then have a speech where he promotes a herd immunity response, saying we need to mix and that people will die – but that that is fine. Then we have a speech where he says we need to lockdown and contain the virus. The same virus he told us to go out and get. We get another speech: him ‘opening up’ the country, spewing dangerous rhetoric on how we dealt with ‘limited freedoms’. This is a famously confusing speech where he talks about who can go to work and who cannot. We still have ignorant and dangerous bluster, that has been in every speech, but we can notice how he has been rattled: the bravado and the confidence have waned.

Hearing these speeches in a row, and now so far removed with us so aware of the consequences, is very impactful and is very damming. I only wish it went further. There is much more that could be included; this is an important critique but a limited one. Though, some filmic flair does really add to the experience. Our view of London is a traditional one: all the fancy, corporate buildings covering the skyline. However, in the foreground is normality. Suburban normality. Just traditional, old-fashioned English terraced housing. At first, we don’t even see the metropolis behind, as it is covered by mist. However, Smith makes it pop up every time Boris mentions business. The corporate hub of London is juxtaposed with reality in a smart way. Later, the buildings glow and pulsate with light as Johnson talks. It is a smart way of showing who he speaks for, and for making him feel so dictatorial and cruel.

Between these moments we have normality, and stillness. The silences between speeches are allowed to speak loudly, also highlighting a lack of control and a dangerous approach. The soundscape is punctuated by sirens and we know we are watching more modern footage, captured far down the line. The juxtaposition across time is another strong critique, especially as we end Johnson’s speeches with him implying things are getting better. We also, though, have everyday life popping in. We see activity through windows, in a Rear Window style. This shows continuation and confinement but also shows a humanity that cuts against the inhumanity of Johnson. Though, in these bits, the pace dips and it feels very standard.

This is an important short and it is well sequenced. It is, however, a bit weak in its critique, though still relevant and pertinent. The ideas could tie together more nicely and more could be done to accentuate them. The more conventional parts provide some balance, and speak to an extent, but do feel very standard. Also, we end with a text on screen declaration of how bad the state of the UK is, regarding the economy and Covid – the things Johnson was trying to focus on. And while the damming information is relevant, it could have perhaps been ingrained more in the film. Everything that is here is good, it just does not go far enough considering the weight of the crimes of Johnson and his government.

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