The Uncertain Kingdom, the ground-breaking anthology featuring original stories from twenty directors inspired by our uncertain reality, thought-provoking snapshots of the state of the nation and innovative cinematic visions of the United Kingdom, is out now in two volumes on Digital.


Ernie

Directed by: Ray Panthaki

Reviewed by Fiona Underhill

Director Ray Panthaki is best known for being an actor (Colette, Official Secrets, Marcella, Gangs of London) and he has chosen two exceptional actors to star in this short. Paul Kaye is best known for his comedic roles, but he often brings pathos and vulnerability, which underlies even his most brash characters. Steven Berkoff is a hero of mine, as a theatre practitioner who I have studied, as well as having a side-career as a Hollywood villain. Now aged 83, it is good to see him still stretching his acting muscles. Ernie touches on themes such as Brexit, toxic masculinity and homophobia to tell the story of a lonely school caretaker – Ernie (Paul Kaye). He lives in a flat with his father (Steven Berkoff), still in his childhood bedroom with dinosaur wallpaper and is berated and belittled by his father, his colleagues, the kids at school and a doctor’s receptionist. He tries to find respite with a Romanian sex worker, but he is looking for love, comfort and validation in the wrong places. The cinematography by David Foulkes is impressive and always emphasises Ernie’s isolation, the production design by Charlie Whiteway, of Ernie’s flat in particular, is detailed and depressingly dingy and the costume design by Alison McLaughlin authentically reeks of despair. The thing that makes Ernie so good is definitely Paul Kaye’s phenomenal central performance as the downtrodden middle-aged man, taking care of others in his job and at home but not receiving anything in return. Let’s just say this is a better portrayal of a victim of ‘society’ than a certain high-profile film about a green-haired loser that came out recently…

Strong is Better Than Angry

Directed by Hope Dickson Leach

Reviewed by Fiona Underhill

Documentaries in the short format can be a tricky beast because obviously there is not much time to delve into the subject matter in depth. Leach (who directed the very good, but incredibly bleak The Levelling in 2016) has attempted something ambitious here by having a lead actress playing a character attend a kick-boxing class with a group of ‘real’ women, who are just being themselves. The women of the class also provide talking heads, explaining how the class has helped them with any feelings of anger they may be experiencing. The main source of interest and fascination comes from being able to immediately see the difference between the one woman who is acting and the rest of the women who are not. It’s not a criticism of the actress, she is not doing anything over-the-top, but even the smallest of gestures – a tensing of the lips, a blink, a shifting of weight from one foot to the next – reveal their artifice. Especially when this ‘performance’ is juxtaposed with women telling highly personal, vulnerable stories from their real lives about what makes them angry – their raw honesty further highlights the ‘imposter’ in their midst. There’s also a slightly bizarre sequence where a prosthetic politician’s head is used as a punching bag, which gets progressively more realistically bloodied and bruised…which kind of works and kind of doesn’t? It’s perhaps slightly too on-the-nose (which is where the punches land ho ho). Leach has definitely gone for a tricky mash-up of tones and styles here, which don’t entirely work and may have been better as a ‘straight’ documentary.

Swan

Directed by: Sophie King

Reviewed by Rhys Bowen Jones

Anyone with any sort of understanding of Britain since the year 2016 will see what Swan is all about. This blunt approach to the hottest topic in the UK over the last half-decade benefits the short film hugely as director Sophie King and her writing partner, Siân Docksey, have crafted a laugh-out-loud funny short film that wouldn’t look out of place in the great British sketch shows of yore.

As the highest reward for passing an Advanced British Citizenship test, husband Ian (Mark Addy) will soon be turned into a swan. Swan follows the weeks leading up to his transformation, how they’re preparing for it, and how it’s straining his relationship with his wife, Donna (Sally Bretton).

In what could be considered a very distant cousin of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, Swan embraces the ludicrousness of its premise and addresses it with the brilliant deadpan humour for which British comedy is so renowned. From the physical comedy of Ian attempting to open a cupboard door with a pretend swan beak attached to his forehead or the overarching satire of the sketch resulting in the punchline I was hoping for, there’s something here that everyone will find funny.

Mark Addy, recognisable to many as Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones, is effortlessly funny here as the oblivious Ian failing to see just how ridiculous he looks as he lives off a heavy grain-based diet as part of his preparation. Sally Bretton matches Addy’s performance though the strain of it all is plain to see, where even in her funniest moments (“there we’ve got the mini bar…” as she gestures to 2 bird feeders), Ian’s decision is clearly taking its toll on both her and their marriage.

There is a real familiarity with the filming style too given its mockumentary format, with carefully chosen zooms and wide-shots to reveal a joke (Donna shown awkwardly waving at her husband’s soon-to-be avian friends is a personal favourite) gives Swan an easy rewatchability.

Swan proves brilliantly that comedy doesn’t have to be subtle to be effective. The short film’s final words may well be telegraphed from the early moments, but their inevitable delivery make it no less effective and elicited a big laugh from me. A lengthy comedy sketch needs to stick the landing – Swan delivers its punchline brilliantly.

British People

Directed by: Lab Ky Mo

Reviewed by Lucy Buglass

At first glance, it’s easy to assume that British People would be a straightforward film with a clear political message. But I was impressed by just how complex and layered it was.

It follows Jane Lo (Jennifer Lim), who is standing for her local Conservative party. If elected, she would become the first female British-Chinese MP and it’s clearly been her ambition for some time, despite the fact some may see it as controversial. In Jane’s case, it’s her own family who see it that way, especially when it comes to her brother Jun Chi (Siu Hun Li). He’s a devout socialist, and opposed to everything that Jane and her party stand for.

If you’re familiar with British politics, you’ll know fine well just how different the Conservative and Labour parties are. As the two main parties in the country, we constantly see them fighting in the House of Commons and beyond. The same goes for party supporters, who can easily find themselves arguing over which policies are best and why. Jane and Jun Chi portray this very well on-screen, each making their own position very clear to each other and the audience.

The film is clever in the sense that it doesn’t spoon feed you. When watching the film, I personally didn’t feel that I was explicitly encouraged to take sides. I guarantee audiences will respond differently depending on who sees it, and that’s the whole point. It also raises important questions about Chinese culture and identity, which both siblings have conflicting views on. As does their mother Linda Lo (Pik-Sen Lim), who immigrated to the UK years ago.

Characters are emotionally charged and all of them believe their opinions are correct. In this situation, they all have their own ideas about the world and we as viewers are encouraged to listen and consider them. All the actors are brilliant and really bring their characters to life, putting across their own arguments passionately and convincingly. It’s easy to believe this is a real conversation between a family with very different views.

Despite its short runtime of 12 minutes, it packs in a lot of information and does it with very limited space. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in the current political climate and what it means for individuals.

Motherland

Directed by: Ellen Evans

Reviewed by Tom Sheffield

“I left Jamaica at 6 years old, to tell you the truth I can’t remember leaving”

Motherland traces the experiences of two young men forcibly returned to Jamaica after a lifetime in Britain, alongside the story of a Windrush-generation man denied re-entry to the UK. Through the personal accounts of those who have had their British identity questioned by the state, the film explores what it really means for someone to “go back home”.

Hearing the stories of these men forced out of the UK is heart-breaking and infuriating in equal measure. One of the men talks about how after serving more time than he was sentenced to in a British prison, he was deported as soon as he left and didn’t even have the chance to get any of his belongings or even speak to his family, who all live in Britain. He opens about his daily struggle living in a country he’s not familiar with, coping without his relatives or friends, and not being able to see his mum. An elderly man shares how he visited Jamaica for the first time 20 years ago to attend a funeral and when he tried to return home he was denied re-entry for not having a ‘proper British passport’ despite it being the only passport he’s ever had.

This powerful short is a must-watch, and at just 12-minutes long there’s no excuse not to.

Acre Fall Between

Directed by: Antonia Campbell-Hughes

Reviewed by Jakob Lewis Barnes

In the spirit of what this short, dystopian drama does so well, I’m going to cut to the chase with this review and celebrate the fact that Acre Fall Between does pretty much everything a short film should do. Following the simple rule of “arrive late, leave early”, we dive straight into the heart of the narrative, tracking one man’s (Mark O’Halloran) increasingly desperate journey to find his family, without any explanation of the new rules that seem to be placed on this world. When making a short film, one does not have the luxury of time; you have to trust that the audience will meet you halfway and enjoy the mystery. 

Throughout, writer-director Antonia Campbell-Hughes offers us tantalising breadcrumbs of the wider picture, allowing the audience to piece together the puzzle along with our protagonist. And it’s a beautiful wider picture to discover, too, owing to the stunning work of cinematographer Eoin McLaughlin, who captures the beautiful Northern Irish landscapes exquisitely. Add to this, the haunting score from George Brennan, and you have a taut, brooding short film which excels on every technical level. As for the narrative, without spoiling anything, the “leave early” denouement contains just the right amount of ambiguity and complexity to have any viewer crying out for one more scene. I wonder if we’ll ever get that?


Also in Volume I

Grit/Oyster

Directed by: Rebecca Lloyd-Evans

“The return of the Goddess Astarte triggers an exploration of female sexuality through the personal fantasies of three women.

We Are Not The Problem

Directed by: Dominika Ozynska

Seeing immigration from the perspective of a migrant, a Polish man describes what his countrymen people have contributed to the UK.

The Conversation

Directed by: Lanre Malaolu

“Exploring the conversation black people face when communicating their racial experience to white partners through a dynamic fusion of dance and dialogue.”

Camelot

Directed by: Alison Hargreaves

“A reimagining of the Welsh legend of King Arthur, told by boys growing up in the Valleys with the quest of their own lives ahead of them.”