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Incendiary

Michelle Williams in Incendiary

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

SHARON Maguire’s provocative new film examines the aftermath of a London bombing as seen through the eyes of a grief-stricken mother but proves to be a foolhardy venture in spite of some committed performances.

Based on a novel by Chris Cleave that was published on the day of the July 2005 attacks on London, it’s sure to hit some pretty raw nerves among viewers… but for all the wrong reasons.

An unnamed bored and lonely housewife (Michelle Williams) starts an affair with Jasper (Ewan McGregor), a tabloid journalist, and is having sex with him while her husband and four-year-old son are watching Arsenal play Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on the day that suicide bombers launch a devastating attack.

Overcome with guilty and grief, the mother attempts to put her life back in order and – with the help of Jasper – tracks down the son and wife of one of the suspects, forging a friendship with the boy. Gradually, through this relationship, she begins to make sense of the situation, while also shedding some uncomfortable light in the role the British police played in the incident.

Unlike films such as United 93 or World Trade Center, Incendiary takes an imagined scenario – the bombing of a football stadium – and uses it to explore, and damn near exploit, real-life events.

In doing so, it touches on everything from the 7/7 attacks to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes days afterwards but adopts a shockingly cavalier approach to the subject matter when a lot more sensitivity was required.

Many of its situations feel contrived and therefore forced, while very few of the characters ring true. Williams, for her part, does convince as the mother and emerges with most credit, even though it’s yet another gritty female performance that requires a leading actress to shed her clothes in order to be “taken seriously”.

Magregor, meanwhile, makes for an extremely unlikely sports-car driving journalist (even though some of his early scenes with Williams are believable), and Matthew Macfadyen struggles to convince on any level as a police chief with his own feelings for Williams’ mum.

But then nothing about Incendiary works, whether it’s the hideously naive “letters to Osama bin Laden” that Williams’ narrates throughout the latter half of the movie, or a Waterloo-based confrontation between police snipers and a mistaken suspect that has all too familiar similarities.

What’s left is a clumsy, ill-considered and ultimately quite insulting “what if” scenario that looks certain to instigate quite a fierce backlash from anyone who bothers seeing it.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 99mins
UK DVD Release: March 2, 2009