There’s never a second’s doubt in your mind about the stance taken by Anthony Woodley’s The Flood. It sets out its stall right from the start, giving us the facts and figures that go with the current refugee crisis – how many people have been forced out of their homes, how many die while trying to settle in Europe. But they’re people, not mere numbers, and the narrative follows one single refugee, although his story is based on that of many.
So this is a film that is very much on their side, but it’s also one with almost equal sympathy for the staff at the Immigration Service. It may be a huge, unwieldy and anonymous organisation, but it’s also populated by people trying to do their job. The story of refugee Haile (Ivanno Jeremiah) is told in flashback. In the present, he’s been caught trying to enter the UK illegally in the back of an HGV and now finds himself being interviewed by Immigration Officer, the experienced Wendy (Game Of Thrones‘ Lena Headey). His is a high profile case, so her job is to establish if his reason for seeking asylum is genuine or if he’s just an economic migrant. The looks into his past take us back to his home, following his eventful and often dangerous journey until the present and, eventually, the verdict on his case.
The film announces that it’s based on many different stories and, indeed, Headey’s Wendy recognises that everybody she talks to has a story of their own – although how truthful they all are is another matter. It also has more than a whiff of authenticity, based on the experiences of the director, scriptwriter and producer when they volunteered in the Calais Jungle as part of their research. It pays off, because the scenes there are some of the best of the film, especially in the sogginess of the almost constant rain. Ultimately, though, Haile is an amalgam of a number of refugees and feels like it, despite Ivanno Jeremiah’s considerable screen presence: the man himself is, in turns, charming, plausible, humane and even a hero but his account of his experiences doesn’t always match what we see on the screen.
Despite its commitment to being truthful to the experience of the thousands of displaced people in the world, and those who died as a result, the film has a measured tone. There are some tender moments but its biggest weakness is that it cannot resist being compassionate to the point of cliche, with its heart almost visibly beating on its sleeve. It could have done with taking a small leaf out of Wendy’s book in the earlier stages of the film, when she tries hard to remain detached, following the rules and just asking the questions on her list. But she gets sucked in, becoming too personally involved. It’s no wonder her personal backstory is one of divorce, separation from her daughter and on-the-job drinking. Headey manages to bring her character to life – she has a permanently tired, strained look that says a lot about her and the job she does – but it’s a struggle even for her when she’s given a character that’s so close to stereotypical.
Despite its weaknesses, The Flood does hold on to your attention, drawing you into the plight of Haile and the other refugees he meets and lives with along the way in so many precarious and downright dangerous settings. You may not shed a tear – knowing the film’s viewpoint right from the start gets in the way of that – but you will shake your head in sympathy and despair. Yet, at the same time, you’ll sympathise with the Immigration Service staff having to work within a system that’s driven by quotas and keeping the Minister happy. Perhaps its biggest fault is a decidedly soapy ending, which is at odds with the rest of the film. Even if those final scenes are based on a real person’s experience, you can’t help but wonder about the many others who had a less than ideal end to their journey.
Freda Cooper |★★ 1/2
Drama | Cert: 15 | UK, 21 June (2019) | Cinema, digital download (UK)| Curzon Artificial Eye | Dir. Anthony Woodley | Lena Headey, Ivanno Jeremiah, Iain Glen, Arsher Ali.