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
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
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.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game