London Calling in Moving Pictures

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Yesterday, Inverclyde for Independence (aka Aye for Aye, it works on multiple levels) hosted a special screening of London Calling, the documentary adaptation of G.A. Ponsonby’s London Calling: How the BBC stole the Referendum.

I think it’s important to note that the documentary isn’t really for the activists who check Newsnet & Wings at breakfast: there’s nothing new in terms of information in this documentary. What it does have in spades is the power of visual media, which is effective at conveying information in a way that text simply does not. There is something different about when you read about, say, Nick Robinson presenting an incredibly misreading report, and actually seeing the events as recorded and as reported. Another clever technique is juxtaposition of conflicting information, like when audio of a BBC report on the Luxembourg Foreign Minister’s “warning” about Scottish independence plays over the text of the Luxembourg Embassy’s letter which criticises that very report. Great use of dissonance.

Although the information is all well-trodden ground, it all seemed fresh through the use of interviews. We had commentary from prominent independence campaigners, international figures, and more than a few familiar faces, which I won’t spoil for readers (you’ll just have to watch it yourself). The interviews were all conducted to an excellent quality, with each talking head providing valuable thoughts with the benefit of hindsight. To my surprise, there were even explosive computer-generated special effects – literally explosive. All in all, the production values were excellent, to the point where I could easily imagine seeing such a documentary on television (albeit not the BBC, for obvious reasons!)

For criticism, I suppose the only flaw I can think of is unavoidable: even with the wealth of information included, there is always a lot that’s left out of the documentary. Any one of the major events featured could have been expanded into short documentaries of their own: the No Borders Project, the Barroso Gambit, the Robinson Deception, and so on. What’s more, there are many things not included – like the NHS cuts story given near wall-to-wall coverage despite being a complete fabrication – though, of course, there are only so many minutes in an hour.

London Calling does a great job consolidating the most important points of the book in a manageable format. I think staunch independence supporters will enjoy the production values and recalling the memories of the referendum: our audience certainly enjoyed booing a certain former Secretary of State for Scotland in his mercifully brief cameo. But I think it will be particularly valuable for those most important to the continuing campaign for independence – though who are undecided, reluctant, or unconvinced. By presenting the key facts in a highly polished, compelling, and engaging documentary, I really think this will be vital information.

Even now, after all these elections and referendums, there are people who don’t want “propaganda” fed to them – leaflets, magazines, newspapers, whatnot – but who nonetheless feel starved of information. By virtue of not being directed or funded by Yes Scotland, the SNP, or any other governmental or political outfit, London Calling may just be what those voters need.

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