British filmmaker Ben Charles Edwards shows a melancholic and dystopian London in a story about friendship and hope in a dark environment. Set The Thames on Fire is divided in three acts – ‘Blue Moon, Black River’, ‘The Stars Are Beginning to Divide’ and ‘This Town is Like Jericho’. London is flooded, and happiness goes down with the ship. Ironically, it is hunger that gives the people a sense of purpose and direction.
Its structure is similar to a play and there is plenty of space for dark comedy dialogues. Two guys move in together and make plans to spice up their sad life, thereby travelling to Egypt. The film echoes with the play ‘Two Guys Lost in a Dirty Night’ by Brazilian playwright Plínio Marcos, where Paco e Tonho share the same hostel room and discuss their lack of perspective in life and at work. Paco is a musician, as well as Art (Michael Winder) in the British film. Both duos are like stray cats, looking for a way to survive without money. Marginal subsistence is a nice backdrop to benches of the grey River Thames, in a skilfully reconstructed dark London.
Set The Thames on Fire also establishes a dialogue with Terry Gilliam’s work, particularly Brazil (1985) and The Zero Theorem (2013), with colourful tyranny and absurdity spicing up the movie. Announcements spread by speakers are common resources in all three movies and the costume design shows a pretentious futuristic fashion with influences by the European Renaissance. Fortunetellers and magicians come to clarify what chaos and decay mean, explaining: “the news are old”.
The film, however, is not funny throughout. The visual image of Art and his companion Sal (Max Bennett) is clownish but it resonates with the absurdist play ‘Waiting for Godot’, by Samuel Beckett. There is a deep dark side in tragedies that makes audiences laugh, but it is not a liberating act.
The film stars Sadie Frost (also co-producer), Noel Fielding and Gerard McDermott. Set The Thames on Fire is showing this week as part of LOCO The London Comedy Film Festival. Watch the film trailer below and click here to order the film on Amazon: