Friday 21 June 2019

"Hero" (Guardian 21/06/19)

Hero ***
Dir: Frances-Anne Solomon. With: Nickolai Salcedo, Pippa Nixon, Joseph Marcell, Fraser James. 111 mins. Cert: 12A

Released to mark Windrush Day, this engaged drama-documentary pays tribute to Ulric Cross, the Trinidadian who became the most decorated of the RAF’s West Indian recruits during WW2, then a producer-presenter with the BBC, then a go-between in several African struggles against imperialism. From the off, writer-director Frances-Anne Solomon strikes a wistful note, wavering between celebration of an extraordinary existence and marked regret around the aims unachieved in that lifetime: footage of the actual, ailing Cross prompts daughter Nicola to remark “it’s just so silly that it takes some dying” to have winkled these details out. As Britain re-examines where it stands in relation to the Windrush arrivals – and those who’ve disembarked behind them – it’s timely viewing, to say the least, though it’s finally an even bigger picture than that suggests.

Solomon’s reconstructions bear witness to a modest budget, but they raise complicated questions of identity that a better furnished period drama might stifle among its scatter cushions. An RAF application form prompts reflection on whether Caribbean fliers feel more African or European in their outlook; in post-War London, Cross (the quietly commanding Nickolai Salcedo) lives a dual life, meeting with such thinkers as CLR James and George Padmore, yet hiding their words from his white British sweetheart Anna (Pippa Nixon). He makes for an atypical biopic subject, more analyst than man of action, his tale generating perceptions, not thunderous setpieces. Evidently, Cross saw Britain backsliding into complacency after vanquishing the Nazis; a further tragedy is how Africa, which Cross viewed as a possible promised land, came to be riven with murderous uncertainty.

Those African travels – encompassing a plot to smuggle Padmore’s papers out of Ghana – allows Hero to flirt with commercial thriller territory, but it’s largely a film of meetings and discussions, intuiting that backroom talk most often alters the course of our lives. Solomon’s clever marshalling of archive footage gives it scope, repositioning Cross in the middle of a monochrome world only reluctantly converting to Kodachrome and Technicolor. Inevitably we see Lord Kitchener, cuddly enough to have been integrated into the Paddington universe; more shameful is the unveiling of a “Keep Britain White” banner in Trafalgar Square, forcing the protagonist into a decision presumably now facing many foreign nationals. It gets episodic late on, yet remains stimulating and provocative – filmed history that means to prompt debate, rather than light matinee snoozing.

Hero opens in selected cinemas from today. 

No comments:

Post a Comment