Taking Liberties

Taking Liberties


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In 2005, I attended a demonstration in Glasgow to protest against a visit by President Bush. A Reporting Scotland journalist asked me why I was there. "Because I'm concerned that US policy is encouraging the erosion of civil liberties in Britain," I explained. "You what?" he asked.

Though any number of people are prepared to stand up and make their voices heard over issues like war, fox hunting and pension rights, civil liberties don't inspire the same degree of passion - in fact, many people aren't quite certain what they are - despite the fact that, without them, we wouldn't be able to protest against anything at all.

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In fact, things are already beginning to go that way. Chris Atkins' explosive documentary opens with the story of three busloads of women who were traveling from London to an airport protest when they were stopped by the police, searched, confined to their vehicle and then escorted back home without even being allowed to make toilet stops, allegedly because they represented a danger to public safety. Several more such stories follow. You may remember the two young people who were arrested for reading out the names of the Iraq war dead at the cenotaph in London, or the 82-year-old Labour Party veteran arrested under the Terrorism Act after shouting "Nonsense!" at Tony Blair during his Conference speech. Taking Liberties makes it clear that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

Though it's undoubtedly an important film, will Taking Liberties tell you anything you didn't know before? Is it really worth two hours of your time? The answer to both questions is yes. Though it could benefit from slightly tighter editing, it's a well-structured film which provides a good deal of irreverent entertainment as it tells its unhappy tale. Although you may feel angry and distressed at some of the cases depicted, especially those which focus on torture victims, this isn't a monument to despair - many of its contributors are shown taking positive action. For instance, when denied the right to organised protest in central London, several dozen people register individual demonstrations on different matters which just happen to take place at the same time on the same day, sporting banners such as 'Make Children Play in the Rain' and 'Down With This Sort of Thing'. It might seem trivial, but this is the sort of thing which can make a difference. If you've ever felt helpless in the face of political change, Taking Liberties can do something about that.

Knitted together with some of the most impressive animation to grace a documentary in years, Taking Liberties includes contributions from a surprisingly wide range of people, from Liberty's Shami Chakrabati to outspoken Tory politician Boris Johnson. If, in the end, it feels just a little too long, it cannot be faulted for its thoroughness. Its quiet, reasoned approach to delivering information cannot undermine its emotional impact. This is the sort of film which demonstrates why cinema retains a real social importance. If you have any interest in politics whatsoever, it's a film you shouldn't miss.

Reviewed on: 03 Jun 2007
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A documentary exploring the erosion of traditional civil liberties in Britain under the Blair government.
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Ben Sillis ***

Director: Chris Atkins

Writer: Chris Atkins

Starring: David Morrissey, Ashley Jensen, Mark Thomas, Shami Chakrabati, Martin Bell, Moazzam Begg, Boris Johnson

Year: 2007

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


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