The Execution Of Gary Glitter?

The Execution Of Gary Glitter?


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The phenomenon of docudrama, on the increase in recent years, challenges the way we approach factual subjects. Its detractors claim that it encourages viewers to buy into a very specific, imaginary interpretation of events, but others point out that material presented as straight fact inevitably contains some bias, too. Perhaps a dramatic element can help us to connect with events at an emotional as well as an intellectual level, giving us a more complete understanding. Whatever the case, docudrama has generally been used to explore events that have already taken place. In this case, it is used for something quite different.

Set in a parallel Britain, yet styled as docudrama (and screening at Sheffield Doc/fest), The Execution Of Gary Glitter is a strange hybrid creation, asking what would have happened if, prior to the former pop star's fall from grace, Britain had reintroduced the death penalty? It presents itself as a documentary looking back at events with news footage, interviews with (real) politicians and journalists, and, strangely, film of the fictional Glitter talking privately with his lawyer (something whose publication would likely present a much bigger political challenge to legalise than capital punishment itself, but whose judicial connotations are entirely overlooked). In this way, the filmmakers argue, they hoped to raise questions about the death penalty and prompt public debate. The trouble is that to find anything new or challenging here one would have to be considerably younger than Glitter's victims.

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Realism in art is always hampered by the banality of most people's day-to-day lives. Here, by trying to make the views expressed by commentators and members of the public seem natural, spontaneous and heartfelt, the debate has been dumbed down to sub primary school level. It's true that many people express themselves crudely about such emotive topics, but that doesn't mean they're ignorant of the more sophisticated issues at stake, and to present them in this way patronises people on both sides. It doesn't offer any real commentary or broadening of perspectives, just a rehash of tediously familiar arguments. Viewers are unlikely to have their minds changed, though many may change their minds about watching it before it gets to the end, as it's also - surprisingly, given its subject matter - studiously dull.

One bright spark in this otherwise dismal little film is Hilton McRae's performance as Glitter himself. He captures the look and the mannerisms perfectly, but he also convinces as a man who simply cannot or will not acknowledge that he has done something wrong. This accords well with Glitter's past statements to the press and with the usual profile of serial child molesters, and, in that context, doesn't seem slanderous - not that Glitter is likely to have many sympathisers anyway.

However the emotive performances of the women playing his victim and her mother are rather more uncomfortable to watch, exploitative to say the least. Most victims of rape and sexual assault prefer to have the chance to forget, not to see their painful testimony dramatised so soon after the event and shown to millions on the spurious grounds that it's educational.

That, ultimately, is the core of this film's problem. It's every bit as callous and sensationalist as the trial by media it presents. It feels like a small-time filmmaker trying to make his reputation off the back of tarnished celebrity and real human suffering. It's lazy, uninspired, and terribly badly executed.

Reviewed on: 10 Nov 2009
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A docudrama set in a parallel world explores issues surrounding the death penalty.
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Director: Rob Coldstream

Starring: Terence Harvey, Hilton McRae, Malcolm Rennie, Gary Bushell, Ann Widdecombe

Year: 2009

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: UK


Doc/Fest 2009

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