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.


Sucka Punch

Directed by: Iggy LDN

Reviewed by Rhys Bowen Jones

It’s not difficult, based on this short’s title alone, to know that there will be some sort of subversion of expectations. The rug will be pulled from beneath you in a bid to send a last-ditch message. Iggy LDN’s Sucka Punch is no different, but sadly, the punchline is ineffectual for no other reason than it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Filmed as a fourth-wall breaking monologue, Sucka Punch is a short public service announcement about our current obsession and over-reliance on social media. Our speaker, the enthusiastic Amara Okereke, stares into the camera with a fierce energy as she spouts cold hard truths about Generation Z and how they live their lives through their phone. This is an undisputed fact, though I find it hard to believe they spend a mere 3 hours per day on social media as Sucka Punch claims. You’ve got to pump those numbers up; those are rookie numbers in this racket. The film asks its viewers to shut down and sign off from their phones to look at the outside world for a change. It’s a nice sentiment, sure, but tell us something we don’t know.

To its credit, Sucka Punch is shot nicely. The fast-paced jump cuts between sentences, changing angles from close-ups to wide-angles to shots from below and above keeps the film ticking over smoothly. I was reminded of the fourth-wall breaking antics of John Cusack in High Fidelity smashed with the Choose Life frustrations spewed by Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.

The problem with Sucka Punch isn’t the content or its method of delivery. What’s here is good and it has good intentions, but it almost believes its own hype. It believes it’s delivering an important message that should rock us all to our very cores, and yet, it’s the same message we – yes, ironically – hear about every day. Is that the point? Maybe. I’ll ponder that over an ice cold can of non-brand fizzy drink.

Pavement

Directed by: Jason Wingard

Reviewed by Rhys Bowen Jones

The housing and homeless charity, Shelter, state that around 320,000 homeless people are sleeping rough in the UK as of December 2019. Pavement tackles the uncomfortable subject head on as the homelessness problem in the UK reaches catastrophic levels.

Pavement sees banker Katie (Liz White) head into work as she would any other day, by putting some small change into the homeless man situated outside the entrance and stroll happily across the foyer satisfied with her good deed of the day. Said homeless man (Steve Evets) is asked and eventually forced to move away from his position but is discovered to be unable to as he is sinking into the floor. Katie takes the matter into her own hands against adversity to try and save the helpless man.

Blunt parable aside, Pavement delivers its story well. Liz White is believable as the sole good Samaritan in the area, striving against a barrage of no’s and you can’t do that’s to simply save a human being. The homeless man, meanwhile, is remarkably calm in his situation and is played with a genuine tenderness by Evets. The emotion Pavement conveys in its brisk 9 minutes was startling, particularly as Katie and the homeless man have a quiet moment under the stars.

Through the by-the-book police officers willing to sanction the penniless man a £1000 fine for illegal squatting or the abrupt dispersal of the gathered crowd upon the conclusion of the man’s story, Pavement couldn’t have gotten its message across more clearly. More subtlety wouldn’t have gone amiss as the ham-fisted subtext around how society ignores those lesser and unfortunate is drilled into us throughout.

Still, it’s admirable that writer-director Jason Wingard set out with a clear goal with his short film and that goal was achieved. Good performances, a poignant closing song, and touchingly realistic characters make this a short film worth watching.

Isaac and the Ram

Directed by: Jason Bradbury

Reviewed by Audrey Fox

Isaac and the Ram begins in the middle of a traumatic night. A vulnerable gay teenager has been physically assaulted, and is offered a place to stay for the night by a burly bouncer. The older man grinds out instructions for him to clean himself up and begrudgingly washes his blood-soaked clothes for the teen, looking the entire time as though his first instinct is to get this kid out of his apartment as fast as he can. The teenager has been thrown out of his own home by conservative parents, if the terse phone call he has with his mother is anything to go by, and his unlikely savior may be a little rough around the edges, but he’s also offering a probably safe bed for the night. The bouncer is uncongenial but unusually protective of the boy, as though he’s atoning for past actions. This is what we know.

Jason Bradbury’s short film is incredibly effective at immediately setting the scene for us, giving viewers a clear window into this one specific night in the lives of these two men. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go much further than that. Isaac and the Ram relies too heavily on broad archetypes for both of its lead characters, which allows us to quickly understand who they are, but isn’t quite enough to build up a strong emotional connection to either. Although we empathize with Isaac’s plight, the film would be richer if he was given a stronger characterization. Ultimately, Isaac and the Ram feels unsatisfyingly incomplete. It’s almost as though what we’re glimpsing is one scene in a feature length film, and however good that one scene is, it isn’t quite capable of standing alone with the context of the larger narrative.

Left Coast

Directed by: Carol Salter

Reviewed by Fiona Underhill

A documentary about a food bank in Blackpool, one of the most deprived areas of the UK. The film mostly focuses on one of the volunteers, an elderly man who gently encourages the people who come to the bank to take a pastry, or a ready meal or some cans. One of the most striking aspects is how crowded the bank is, demonstrating how much they are needed. Salter’s directorial style is extremely unobtrusive and observant, hanging back and letting things naturally unfold. You get the sense that she is hanging back in corners, barely noticed by the people who have much more important things on their minds. It doesn’t even use voice-over or talking heads commenting on what we’re watching. One of the only ‘editorial flourishes’ you may notice is that she juxtaposes shots of Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the sound of people on rollercoasters with the deprivation that immediately surrounds it. This would obviously make a great companion piece to the recent work of Ken Loach and it is vital that both narrative and documentary directors are chronicling how austerity measures have affected millions of people in the UK and the vast societal and economic inequality, which is only getting worse.

Death Meets Lisolette

Directed by: Guy Jenkin

Reviewed by Audrey Fox

With Death Meets Lisolette, director Guy Jenkins paints a vivid portrait of a quaint island community in Britain that is perfectly ordinary in all respects, save one: its inhabitants are unable to die. They seem strangely nonplussed by this unprecedented turn of events, mostly going about their business as usual. But there’s an uneasiness to the town, an almost imperceptible feeling that the very fundamentals of nature have been upended. People are meant to die.

Death Meets Lisolette deftly balances the gallows humor of townspeople experimenting with suicide for the simple rush of cheating Death and the more poignant story of our young heroine Lisolette’s grandmother, who is in the early stages of dementia and would like the option of ending her life with dignity. So they carry on, bemused and slightly wrong-footed, until young Lisolette discovers Death trapped in a barn, and finds herself in the rare position of bargaining with the grim reaper.

The depiction of Death here is an oddly comforting one, especially when viewed in the midst of a global pandemic when we’re all forced to come to terms with our own mortality. He is an ominous but not necessarily frightening figure, a reliable presence that keeps a dying person company for their last few moments on Earth and escorts them to what comes next. Death Meets Lisolette is a deceptively simple film, playing on the depiction of death personified in a way that we’re largely familiar with. But it’s incredibly well-judged throughout, and despite its lightness of touch, it has a surprising emotional depth that packs a powerful punch.

Verisimilitude

Directed by: David Proud

Reviewed by Rhys Bowen Jones

An able-bodied actor playing a disabled character in film or TV is an all-too common occurrence. Verisimilitude tackles this subject head on as it follows unemployed actor and wheelchair-bound Bella (Ruth Madeley) working as consultant for Josh (Laurie Davison), the obnoxious able-bodied star attempting to play a disabled character.

Director David Proud establishes the titular theme of his short film within seconds, showing Bella’s audition for a somewhat rude casting director. Her choice of piece, a Shakespearian monologue from Richard III, is savaged because the character is a man and Bella most certainly isn’t. Despite the disability connection between Richard III and Bella, the casting director fails to see beyond this simple re-casting and ushers her out of the door. A female actor playing a male character? Whatever next! This idea – someone playing something they’re not – bubbles beneath the surface throughout.

Ruth Madeley, most recently seen in BBC drama Years and Years, is great as Bella, scornfully judging the able-bodied actor as he attempts to give as realistic a performance as he can, making notes in her private notebook as she goes. Laurie Davison, meanwhile, is very funny as Josh, delivering the so-called “wanky actor bullshit” with tongue-in-cheek aplomb.

There’s a delightfully warm and funny moment early as Josh’s hair and make-up artist, Janey (Esther Smith) gives Bella a side-eye that clear as day says “are you listening to this bollocks?” as Josh rambles on his phone about his impending performance. This acknowledgement felt like something Bella rarely receives on film sets, showcased by her aimless flipping of magazine pages while Josh does everything in his power not to address her. The difficulties faced by disabled filmmakers and actors is no doubt an experience both David Proud and Madeley themselves have experienced over the years; Proud clearly revelled in giving it the hatchet treatment here.

While the ending may be a little too blunt for my liking – though this is once again played with tongue firmly planted in cheek – the film’s intent is there for all to see. Great performances, funny dialogue, and a strong, successfully made statement on the disabled actor’s working experience makes Verisimilitude well worth your time.

What’s In A Name

Directed by: Runyararo Mapfumo

Reviewed by Fiona Underhill

This documentary features six people explaining the history and culture of their names, as well as problems they have experienced with people mispronouncing them or being bullied because of them. The six people all provide voice-over, which plays over shots of them at home or in their daily lives. The footage is mostly shot in a fairly standard way, panning across their living rooms and other spaces that are meaningful to the participants. Standard, that is, apart from one extremely odd choice which is that certain objects move as if possessed. I think this is to highlight objects which are significant to the individuals, but comes across with more of a horror vibe than was perhaps intended. Shots are framed quite artily, as if the subjects are posing for portraits; but perhaps seeing a bit more of their lives would give us a richer insight, even within the limited run-time. The subjects themselves and their stories are fascinating, but aren’t particularly enhanced by the directorial style.


Also Available in Volume II

Borrowed From Our Children

Directed by: Leon Oldstrong

“A series of vignettes celebrating love, community, protest and joy to remind us that though our hope may diminish it is reborn in our children.”

Sauna

Directed by: Stroma Cairns

“In the heat of a community gym’s sauna, a disparate group of Londoners gather nightly to open up about community, connection and faith.”

The Life Tree

Directed by: Paul Frankl

The discovery of a healing tree brings hope to a Bolivian migrant whose son is close to death from plastic pollution.