So, you think you're free? Think again.

13 October 2007

Taking Liberties, the first documentary made by fledgling filmmaker Chris Aitkins, brims with humour and passion. The film, which documents the gradual erosion of our civil liberties by New Labour, is overflowing with anecdotes about Labours attack on the pillars of individual freedoms: the right to protest, the right to free speech, the right to privacy and the right to be free from torture.

It manages to examine each of these topics in a manner that is witty and keeps your attention, never appearing dry or dull and yet without the staged and annoying gimmicks utilised by Michael Moore. The film feels entertaining and worthwhile as a number of shocking revelations emerge about just how vulnerable we are to the whims of the state.

Tony Blair is once again made in to a figure of hate.

In response to heckling from an outspoken member of the public Blair responds: “That’s fine sir, you can make your protest, just thank god we live in a democracy where you can”. The protestor seems not to see the benefits; whilst receiving Blair’s cutting retort, he was wrestled to the ground by security personnel.

The vilifying of Tony Blair, however, is a major weakness in this film, which focuses much of its attention on how the Blair-Bush relationship reduced our freedoms. In part because of this, the film feels a little outdated, we are after all in the Brown era and politics in Britain is changing. The film does attempt to deal with this in the last few minutes but it feels tacked on and, given that the film was released in the cinema around the same time that Blair stepped down, it probably was.

This however is probably less a failing of the filmmaker and more just an unhappy aspect of making political movies. The film was clearly conceived and made as Blair was seemingly running roughshod over our freedoms and before Brown took power. It is sad for Chris Aitkins that the film now feels a little redundant. However, had Aitkins actually taken the time to go back to his work rather than taking on a short and scanty look at the future, the film could have been so much better.

Another issue is that while it is an impressive collection of anecdotes and facts about the attack on civil liberties, there is very little in it that we haven’t heard before. There are some new questions asked, such as why is it that the fear of terrorism has allowed the government to wrest freedoms from the people that fear of the IRA and the Nazis never did? This film is unashamedly partisan. It never seems to take seriously the threat of terrorism or debates the difficulties of maintaining civil liberties in a world of global terrorism. There are not even nods towards neutrality as it shamelessly attempts to tell us what to think with virtually no time given to those with opposing views.

Despite its weaknesses this humorous and compelling film does warrant watching. It imparts a strong message to its viewers about a political topic that very few seem really to take seriously and this in itself is an admirable achievement. It shows us that Blair and New Labour drew the barriers of law ever tighter, and while for those of us in the middle, who never bump up against them, they are invisible; if, or when, we attempt to protest something in the future we may find that we cannot.

Lottie Heales

Taking Liberties is released on DVD on 15th October