Following in the footsteps of Kevin Macdonald’s Life in a Day, Morgan Matthews invited the British public to film their lives on one particular day for a feature-length documentary: Britain in a Day.
On Saturday 12th November 2011 more than 11,000 Brits picked up their cameras to be part of what has been called a ‘time capsule’ of our time. Sifting through 800 hours of footage, from cell phone recordings to professional cameras, Matthews creates a montage of different people, different places and different lives. Moving chronologically from morning to night, the documentary aims to paint a portrait, though sometimes veering towards caricature, of what living in Britain is like.
Despite an exposition accompanied by some very ominous music – whether that’s contrapuntal of not is really a subjective opinion, though I’d fall onto the ‘yes’ side – and a shoddy, under-thought cut from a woman breastfeeding to a milk-pump being whacked onto a breeding cow’s udder, the film eventually finds its feet.
As day breaks and the narrative swings on, a British woman on a countryside walk choruses “good morning,” “good morning,” “good morning,” to every person in her vicinity – British eccentricity. A homosexual man gay-cruising in his local woods discusses the stigma society has attached to his sexuality and the difficulties he therefore faces – modern Britannic bravery. On a picnic with his family, a man proposes to his unsuspecting wife who screams, cries and hugs her children in a storm of happiness – looking towards the future.
Perhaps what is most touching, yet most sidelined, is the story of Down’s syndrome sufferer, Lola, and her carer. Scenes of their singing and struggle to communicate crop up sporadically, but any attempts to actually vocalise and explain the condition seem to be omitted.
Nonetheless, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by how touching it is that people are willing to share some of the most intimate moments in their lives with complete strangers. It is the amateur filmmaking and the raw footage which makes this film what it is, and reveals how the contemporary British character is both multi-faceted and multi-cultural.
The BFI wrote that the … in a Day films are a “significant movement,” which, in my opinion, draw us closer to the people we share the world with. Having been filmed on 11th March 2012, Japan in a Day is currently in production, and one can only hope that the movement will domino across the world.
Britain in a Day, dir. Morgan Matthews (2012, UK)
The Britain in a Day archive can be accessed here.