Last night's viewing - Britain in a Day, BBC2

 

Britain in a Day – filmed by the plain people of Britain and assembled by Morgan Matthews – was, in the nature of its construction, a highly miscellaneous portrait of the nation. On Saturday 12 November last year, anyone who wanted to could film what they were up to that day and upload it to YouTube.

The result was enough footage to run unbroken for a month, from which Matthews, a documentarist with the stamina to match his fine eye, had edited together a midnight-to-midnight impression of who we are, both as a people and a species. By my calculation, this is a shooting ratio of something like 500-to-1 and the kind of challenge of distillation that might easily drive a lesser film-maker stark mad.A less polite word for a miscellany would be a ragbag, and when Britain in a Day began there were a few minutes when you feared that that was what you might be in for. The opening sequence had the groggy inconsequentiality of a home-run on a night bus after one too many drinks: there was Philip Glass on the headphones and a string of images challenging you to come up with a coherent narrative. Wake me up when we get to the depot, you thought, shortly before you saw a night-bus driver doing just that with a couple of limpet-like passengers.

But then the patterns and rhythms of the thing started to make themselves apparent. The first was a little clumsy – a straight cut from a breast-feeding mother to a farmer starting his pre-dawn milking and affably pointing out "the laziest cow I've got". From him, you went to a milkman and the early-morning shift at Radio Cumbria, and then into a montage of early risers: a boxer on a training run, hill-walkers and a rower, tugging his scull through the low mist on a river. You would become aware of a momentary theme – different ways of saying "good morning" for example – and then that would give way to some other echo. Matthews cut between an aging teddy boy and a punk getting their tonsures sorted for the day, and then to someone else impassively clipping his hair, as the sound of a family row leaked through the door.

Matthews was at pains to include pain, often touched in with a poignant economy. "These are my scars that I have collected over the years," said one woman, displaying a lattice of self-harming on the back of her hand. Another sat cheerfully with her pet rabbit and then dissolved into tears as she explained that it was a substitute for the child she couldn't have. Yet another shared her fear that she would never find a partner, her face crumpling at the thought. And in among the National Geographic stuff that any such enterprise will throw up – the pastimes and the scenery and the representative British eccentricities – Matthews had threaded two or three graver narratives to hold the film together. A father dying of a brain tumour prepared to attend his daughter's wedding in the hospice chapel and a young Scottish boy travelled to see his mother for the first time in five years, both of them wrenching evidence of how tightly the ties of family cling.

Not much was missing. Shopping seemed strangely absent and food had been reduced to a kind of percussive sound poem towards the end of the day. But we're now all well enough practised in the video confessional to cover pretty much everything else. Matthews was further helped by the chronological frame for the film, with its subliminal metaphor for the course of a life, from birth to death, sunrise to sunset. In the end, Britain in a Day was never going to be able to give anything other than the sketchiest impression of the nation. But it delivered a surprisingly comprehensive and moving account of what it is to be human.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice