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WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Taking Liberties is – as its name suggests – a documentary claiming that Tony Blair’s government has brought in dozens of new pieces of legislation which are ostensibly to increase security, but in reality reduce our civil liberties.
One by one, the film-makers take the viewer on a journey, looking at the liberties they believe have been eroded, from the right to protest and the freedom of speech to the right to privacy.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

It appears from this film that Tony Blair has changed his mind on a number of issues and on others, seems to go along with the “do as I say, not as I do” ethos. But neither of those will come as much of a surprise to the kind of people who’ll go to see this film which is a typical example of preaching to the converted.
It’s a shame, because many of the points raised are valid, damning and even frightening, but the way they’re presented undermines their power, in many ways.
The film-makers frequently juxtapose footage of the prime minister, in one speech after another, remarking that the people who don’t like his policies should at least welcome the fact that they live in a country where they are free to protest – with footage of people being arrested at protests for offences including stalking the police, blocking the highway, staging a protest without first seeking permission from the police and littering – for throwing away notices handed to them by the police.
Then there’s the contrast of his hatred of ID cards while in opposition with his love of them in government.
But this is very much from the Michael Moore school of polemic – as evidenced by the participation of Britain’s Michael Moore, Mark Thomas, and information about how the viewers can participate in demonstrations – rather than a balanced documentary. This all makes for a more entertaining watch, but a less informative one.
If you present only one side of the story, it’s bound to be more dramatic. It gets to the stage where each time they show a new protest or a new excuse for breaking up the protest, you feel “OK already, we’ve been here before, tell me something I don’t know.”
The same message could have been put across in a half hour TV programme and doesn’t really need an hour and a half on the big screen to ram home.
As with all of these kind of films, there’s a very worthwhile message in there, but being so one-sided and melodramatic in delivering it has the effect of watering down the true impact of the policies they’re trying to condemn, making the film-makers every bit as unreasonable as the politicians they are criticising.
Some observations are oddly enlightening – a man arrested for protesting without permission notes that if he were actually a terrorist, he’d have got a licence first, so that he could then approach his desired target legally before blowing himself up. Indeed, they point out that the Madrid bombers of 2004 all had ID cards and Mohammed Atta, the ring-leader of the 9/11 bombers first entered the US on a valid passport – “they’re not stamped ‘terrorist’” one speaker observes.
But then the film-makers go and lose the moral high ground by, for example, arguing against ID cards by saying that computer hackers can get your information for free – an argument that carries as much weight as saying we shouldn’t have locks on our front doors, because burglars can pick them or just smash the door in anyway.
Oh – and apparently, ID cards can help people who want to commit genocide.
And the film highlights the fact that Tony Blair was warned before going to war in Iraq that this would increase the threat of terrorism – but does this argument mean we shouldn’t have gone to war against Hitler, because that would increase the chances of the Nazis dropping bombs on Britain?
The film shows clips of thousands of protestors marching against the war – but does it interview the majority of members of the public who didn’t? Of course not.
And do we hear from any of Tony Blair’s ministers, offering evidence to defend their policies. Of course not.
Concluding that Tony Blair’s main legacy has been to turn the entire country into one big prison, this is more of a love-in for civil liberties campaigners than it is an educational and informative piece of journalism. But it has some powerful, thought-provoking moments, nonetheless.

opens nationwide 8th June 2007

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