Apparently it takes four days for modern society to crumble into dog-eat-dog anarchy, writes Simon Penfold.
After less than a week of no electricity the UK has riots, armoured cars on the streets, martial law and the complete breakdown of civilisation as we know it.
That’s according to this deeply depressing drama from Channel 4.
You can imagine the programme-makers sitting around their table a few months ago trying to come up with the latest disaster. They’ve had mega-tsunamis and pandemic viruses. Then someone remembers some recent news stories about concerns that the National Grid has come perilously close to considering power cuts.
Aha! You can almost hear their little brains cells ticking away. Power cuts – chaos and gritty drama.
Enter a mysteriously caused complete shut-down of the national grid, with no warning, possibly caused by malevolent internet hackers.
After the 2011 riots, the programme makers have lots of spare footage of civil disorder on the streets to merge with their specially-filmed protests and looting, and it’s all done with ‘found footage’ – supposed ‘real’ film from people’s cameras and mobile phones, mixed with news film.
It allows the programme to follow a select group of average people; the mum and daughter trying to reach a sick grannie in Sheffield, a pair of yobs on a wander, a sister involved in a road crash and then watching her gravely ill brother fall victim to a failing hospital system.
On paper it should work a treat. It’s a standard way of making this kind of disaster movie. As an audience we feel sympathy with our heroes and heroines in their struggles.
The problem is, most of these people are so appallingly unlikeable it is hard to feel much sympathy for them at all, from the smug self-sufficiency enthusiast who is clearly an embarrassment to his wife and kids to the louts who eventually appear to go up in smoke after causing a tanker fire in a lorry park.
There’s a lot of whining and not a lot of decent acting. And the ending, which sees disintegrating self-sufficiency man end up committing an act of savage violence in a supermarket, just in time for the lights and CCTV cameras to come back on, was so heavy handed as to make a hapless TV reviewer groan.
The whole tone is so unrelievedly grim and miserable as to make it a struggle to wade through the 95 minutes running time. There’s no real tension, just misery piled on misery.
The programme makers seem to think that a five-day power cut is on a par with global killer flu or nuclear war in terms of the level of chaos and misery it brings in its wake.
But this drama says more about its makers than it does about the impact of a sudden dramatic loss of electricity. They have such a poor opinion of their fellow man and woman, they can only imagine that we would revert to selfish savagery at the drop of a hat. The only character who seems really sympathetic is the tagged criminal who comes to the aid of the mother and child heading to Sheffield.
They seem to forget that quite a few people around today have actually lived through power cuts. Those of us who can recall the three-day week and electricity shut-downs of the 1970s are aware of the reality. People cope. They adapt. They develop a sense of humour. The world, surprising as it may seem to the iPod generation, doesn’t collapse because you can’t log on to Twitter for a few days.
This drama wasn’t all bad, and there were some good ideas struggling to get out, but Blackout was too in love with the idea of almost instant urban collapse to give those ideas much air. Its makers just wanted to wallow in the worst of human behaviour and in the end it just left a bad taste.