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Film Of The Week Utopia undone

Christopher Ian Smith's powerful documentary charts the rise and fall of the visionary project that was Basildon new town, says MARIA DUARTE

New Town Utopia (15)
Directed by Christopher Ian Smith
★★★

THIS visually arresting portrait of Basildon New Town and the hopes it spawned on becoming a beacon for a social and classless utopia make for a thought-provoking documentary.

Director Christopher Ian Smith shows you the Essex town as you have never seen it before through its bleak and striking architecture and its colourful and eye-catching sculptures and murals.

The words and works of local artists, musicians and poets are interwoven throughout  and shed a fascinating light on life in this former new town, its slow demise and the demonising of its working-class inhabitants.

Basildon was one of 10 new towns to be built across Britain, as announced by Lewis Silkin (voiced by Jim Broadbent), the Minister for Town and Country Planning, in 1946.

The idea was to relocate post-war London families so they could enjoy open spaces and country living. The rich and the working class would live harmoniously in these purpose-built towns, which Silkin hoped would create a new kind of citizen with a sense of “beauty, culture and civic pride.”

The film shows how Basildon was a cultural hive of art, music and theatre — it gave us Depeche Mode — which have slowly been killed off by the local council as it cut back on their funding.

The documentary analyses why Silkin's aesthetic and civic dream faltered and then failed. Seventy years on, Basildon, rather than being the city which people from all over the world want to visit as Silkin promised, is a place many of its residents want to escape from — and have.

Art and culture are a distant memory and Basildon is now considered one of the worst towns in Britain, with a huge gap between rich and poor.

This is a powerful and visceral ode to Basildon and to crushed social dreams and aspirations.

You'll never view this Essex town in the same light again.

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