tue 11/08/2020

Blackout, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Blackout, Channel 4

Blackout, Channel 4

The country descends into dimly-lit chaos in one-off docu-drama

Andy (Anthony Shuster) is a desperate man in 'Blackout'

If the UK’s entire power supply were to fail, how long do you reckon it would take for society to regress to the point that people would begin eating cold chips they had rescued from a bin? According to Blackout, a feature-length docu-drama directed by Bafta-award winning Ben Chanan, the answer is a mere two days.

This is a serious piece of work which, by its closing moments, turns from exploration of an intriguing what-if scenario to fully realised psychological horror. And yet it’s the elements of humour among the panic and the drudgery that make Blackout so engrossing. The film follows a variety of characters in the immediate aftermath of a nationwide power outage, using a combination of “found footage” - performed by a predominantly amateur cast - and stock scenes from real civil emergencies to ramp up the tension.

Its interest is in the effects of a prolonged power outage on real people

Although news reports hint at the role of a cyber attack, or terrorist activity, in bringing down the National Grid one day in November, Blackout doesn’t concern itself with that kind of detail. Its interest is in the effects of a prolonged power outage on real people, and on the country’s vital infrastructure: communications, hospitals, law and order. The film nods at, but never explains, exactly how the operators of the smartphone cameras that provide the action manage to hold on to five days’ worth of power, but everything else appears to be painstakingly researched: the title cards that appear occasionally, pointing out at what point the National Emergency Plan for Fuel kicks in, or the generators that power the country’s mobile phone base stations fail, add to the realism rather than act as distraction.

Jada Wallace Mitchell as Jay Jay in BlackoutThe film opens with a spooky, Cloverfield-style confession video, in which a badly-lit man with a black eye appears to be readying himself to do something terrible. “I’m filming this because I want to be fully accountable for my actions,” he says sombrely, before the opening credits roll. When he appears again it’s before events begin: as a smug, middle-class dad with an interest in survival and a shiny new fuel-based generator to demonstrate for his video blog.

When the power goes Andy is at first quietly confident, cooking sausages on a back-garden barbecue and threatening to purify the water from the radiators to drink. He seems to be better prepared than Lorrie and her young daughter Jay Jay (above right), who are heading to Sheffield where Lorrie’s mother is without water. On the other side of London, Chloe - who has escaped relatively unscathed from a blackout-related car crash - keeps vigil over her comatose brother as the hospital lights flicker, while young lads Dodge and Gibbo - apparently head-hunted by the director after they posted a film of their escape from a lift on YouTube - steal a car, steal some vodka, steal a hosepipe then use that to steal some petrol as they try to make their way home.

Like most examples of the found footage style of filmmaking, Blackout moves slowly at first - but the whole thing is put together so cleverly that each of its individual stories becomes more compelling than the Government’s response, or the inevitable shots of civil unrest. That not everyone will prosper is predictable, but there are some genuine shocks along the way.

It’s the elements of humour among the panic and the drudgery that make Blackout so engrossing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article


I watched the program with the intent on picking it apart. I have spent 5 years studying survival, disaster preparedness and it's related subjects including self reliance, recourse management and emergency management. It appears numerous reviews take issue with the rate at which society descend into a darwinian nightmare. Studies into this aspect of the show by government agencies and independent thinks tanks show it takes a law abiding citizen 7-10days without food to commit a crime and 14-17 days to commit murder, so the show was off by a week. Given the convenience age and increase in moral relativism, drawing comparisons to disasters between 30 to 90 and subsequent social cohesion and cooperation is folly. Our society was less divided and had a greater level of ethical conduct. During the 30's is when being in debt was considered socially taboo, never mind theft. The reviews are clearly being written by people who have experienced traffic jams and mild fuel shortages at best as they use the phrasing "depressive TV" almost repeatedly, what were they expecting? The grid has gone down, that's not a picnic in the park. Before writing the reviews I would suggest these socially dependant urbanites turn off the mains electricity, gas and water to their abode for 96 hours (without making preparations ahead of time) and walk to any location they chose to go to and see how they get on. How does the media and the public's phone batteries last so long? is another question frequently asked in a scathing manner. While it's true that this is not accurate, what would the reviewers prefer, watching a blank screen for 1 and half hours? It's called suspension of disbelief to serve as a means to enjoy entertainment! It was to serve the means of story telling. Do they watch x-men and exclaim "nonsense!!" throughout? I am very pleased with channel 4 for airing this, while flawed, poignant and thought provoking feature. In this increasingly economic, social and political unstable environment we find ourselves in, may it serve as message to all those out there who take for granted the modern conveniences we enjoy, that when the trucks stop (take a look around you. 98% of everything you see was at some point transported on a lorry), everyone's dependent, lovy-dovy, liberal naivety comes crumbling down and the rats, snakes and jackals flood out to prey on the weak, gullible and unprepared. Modern civilized society is merely a thin veneer when people are Thirsty, cold, hungry and scared. When the next heavy snow storm hist Britain or embargo restricts fuel/transport, will you be part of the problem or part of the solution?

Really want this one on dvd but is impossible to find! :( anyone know where to purchase the dvd?? Thanks.

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters