Anthony Woodley’s The Flood follows Eritrean refugee Haile (the extremely impressive Ivanno Jeremiah) on a journey full of hazard over oceans and across borders, as we see him arrive in the UK hoping to find solace and safety.
Instead, Haile comes face to face with Wendy (Lena Headey), the hardened immigration officer who clearly is judged on her ability to quickly and clinically reject applicants. It’s her job to interrogate him and find out his reasons for seeking asylum, and with his life quite literally in her hands, it’s a tense wait to learn his fate.
With flashbacks to Haile’s traumatic journey which began with his dangerous flight from the army in Eritrea, we see the tragedies he encounters and psychological trauma he experiences en route. Washing up on the shore of the Mediterranean, after the dingy he and many others were in develops a fault, and he almost drowns, we see dozens of clothes and life jackets strewn across the rocks. Whether these are discarded or the result of many people dying at sea isn’t clear, but it’s obvious that this route is filled with peril. When Haile finally ends up in the French refugee camp ‘Calais Jungle’ he’s struggling to survive and even obtaining basic things like water and food involve precarious challenges, let alone trying to get a space on a lorry to the UK, which involves dealing with far more dangerous people on the other side of the law.
Wendy has problems of her own – an acrimonious divorce alongside the loss of custody of her daughter seems to have provoked (or is the result of) heavy drinking, and she seems incapable of doing much else than her job. Meanwhile, her boss Philip (Iain Glen) is breathing down her neck, pushing her to complete the task of denying Haile asylum. Their methodical and clinical response is in stark contrast to the extraordinary and hazardous journey Haile had to make, and it highlights the bureaucracy of the systems within which real people have to occupy.
The traumatic journey Haile takes feels like a well-researched and accurate portrayal of refugees seeking asylum and it comes as no surprise to learn that director Woodley, writer Helen Kingston, and producer Luke Healy all spent time volunteering in the Calais Jungle themselves, and based the script on real stories and interviews. Whilst a drama feature, its understated and unembellished exploration of a refugee’s experience seems closer with documentary filmmaking and it looks at what’s currently happening at our countries’ borders without judgement.
As a narrative drama, it works very effectively and offers some humanity about the refugee crisis as a counterbalance to the vitriolic and hateful headlines that form much of the everyday perspective on it. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for those fleeing from war or fears for their lives who seek out a safer life, and The Flood is profoundly moving. Where the weakness lies is perhaps that it could be accused of having a ‘white saviour’ complex: the writer, director and producer are all white, all the immigration officer characters are white, and all the refugee characters (including Mandip Gill as Reema, Peter Singh as Faiz, and the fantastic Arsher Ali as the extremely dodgy Nasrat) are people of colour; one wonders how different this film might be were all those roles reversed.
That aside, The Flood is a poignant piece and does much to challenge the hateful accusations of “terrorists!” that people fleeing oppressive regimes face when they seek asylum. Though it has a few plot holes, particularly towards the end, it still ends up being a powerful story which may end up changing hearts and minds at a time when this is very much needed.
Zoe Margolis | @girlonetrack