Taking Liberties (15)

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The Independent Culture

Taking Liberties and its director, Chris Atkins, are widely seen as Britain's answer to the Michael Moore-inspired genre of incendiary political commentary mixed with blackly tongue-in-cheek humour, but subtle differences mark this film out as something refreshingly different.

As the title suggests, Taking Liberties explores the erosion of civil liberties in the UK, specifically during Tony Blair's premiership. What sets it apart from Moore's film-making style is the absence of melodrama, so often exploited in Moore's work, in favour of a measured analysis of the facts, which are terrifying enough to do away with the need for embellishment.

True, familiar characters appear, though with a typically British twist. Atkins contrasts the gentle resistance of Maya Evans, who was arrested for breaking the ban on unauthorised protests in Westminster for reading out names of soldiers killed in Iraq near the Cenotaph, with dread-locked anarchists and two delightfully militant elderly women back-chatting policemen outside a US base.

There's a charming sincerity to these simple acts of defiance and the determination of these ordinary people just to be heard. Sincerity is a powerful, and difficult, emotion to convey in films of this type, but it's something Taking Liberties does incredibly effectively.

Similarly, the protest stalwart and stand-up comedian Mark Thomas features, fighting the power with that most quintessentially British of weapons: the queue. In the face of protest restrictions that force individuals to apply for a protest licence, he sees to it that a London police station is mobbed by protesters, albeit patiently arranged in an orderly line that spills out on to the street. The bonhomie of the protesters is evident as they patiently wait to fill their forms. Whether their point is made is a matter of opinion, but it's hard not to respect their efforts.

The film is peppered with charming stories of resistance, but nonetheless carries an important message. Our liberties are being curtailed through a raft of laws passed since 1997, and particularly since 9/11. The consequences are highlighted by the victims: their stories testify to the fact that something very rotten sits at the core of our public institutions.

The film (and the equally worthwhile extras on the DVD) is a must for anyone brave enough to consider its implications. A word of warning, though: once you have entered the looking glass, it may be impossible to see the world, and this country, in quite the same way again.

James Clarke, Teaching assistant, Aylesbury

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