'The Flood': Film Review

The Flood - Publicity Still 1 - H 2020
Megatopia Films
Earnest to a fault.

Lena Headey plays a British immigration officer interrogating a recently arrested refugee in Anthony Woodley's timely drama.

Hot-button subject matter proves surprisingly less than compelling in Anthony Woodley's The Flood, a film about a British immigration officer interviewing a high-profile detainee. The pic was inspired by the experiences of director Woodley, screenwriter Helen Kingston and producer Luke Healy volunteering in the Calais refugee camp known as "The Jungle," and you can feel the efforts of the filmmakers to pack in all the insights they gleaned. Unfortunately, solid research and good intentions don't necessarily make for good drama. Despite the fine performances by leads Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), who has herself long been active in refugee causes, and Ivanno Jeremiah (AMC's Humans), The Flood lacks the narrative urgency needed to make watching it feel like more than a slog.

Headey, cannily underplaying, plays the central role of Wendy, the tightly wound officer whose monotone vocal delivery and stony demeanor signify that she's seen it all. As the story begins, she's in an interrogation room with the recently arrested Haile (Jeremiah, whose expressive eyes seem to fill the screen), who has arrived in England after an arduous, months-long journey from his native Eritrea. When asked why he shouldn't be immediately returned to his home, Haile tells Wendy he would be killed.

"Everyone's got a story," she replies dispassionately.

Haile's case has received great attention nationally, because he apparently attacked the police officers who discovered him hiding in the back of a truck. Wendy thus finds herself under pressure from her hovering superior (Iain Glenn, another Game of Thrones alumnus, making a strong impression in a minor role) to make sure his request for asylum is denied, especially since an election is coming up.

The narrative veers back and forth between the interrogation, during which Haile behaves with utmost dignity, and flashbacks depicting his harrowing experiences. The filmmakers stack the deck a bit to elicit maximum sympathy for the character. He's not merely seeking a better life, but rather was forced to flee his homeland after being conscripted into the army and then refusing orders to kill a civilian. He manages to survive a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean, only to eventually find himself in the hugely overpopulated French refugee camp known for its dangerous conditions. There he falls in with a Pakistani couple, the pregnant Reema (Mandip Gill) and her clearly ill husband Faiz (Peter Singh), with whom he makes the rest of the dangerous travel to England.

Although rendered with some suspenseful stylings, including Billy Jupp's tensely overemphatic music score, the scenes involving Haile's experiences fail to provide significant thrills. But they are at least far more interesting than the interrogation segments, featuring the sort of on-the-nose dialogue more designed to notch thematic points than sound realistic (Haile parries Wendy's verbal thrusts like an experienced debater). The film attempts to add some emotional layers to Wendy by showing her dealing with a contentious custody battle over a young daughter and surreptitiously drinking vodka out of a water bottle while on the job. But it all comes across like soap opera, and her growing sympathy for Haile's plight seems more a dramatic device than a credible evolution of viewpoint.

It's easy to see why The Flood, which certainly presents a sympathetic portrayal of the refugee experience, has been embraced by the Human Rights Watch organization. But for all the efforts the filmmakers have put into telling the story with documentary-style realism, they've failed to provide the dramatic complexity that would make it seem something more than a well-intentioned public service announcement.  

Production company: Megatopia Films
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films (Available on VOD)
Cast: Lena Headey, Ivanno Jeremiah, Iain Glen, Mandip Gill, Peter Sing, Arsher Ali, Rebecca Johnson
Director: Anthony Woodley
Screenwriter: Helen Kingston
Producer: Luke Healy
Executive producers: Matthew Helderman, Merlin Merton, Julie-Ann Uggla, Maria Walker, Mike Woodley
Director of photography: Jon Muschamp
Production designer: Sofia Stocco
Editor: Mike Pike
Composer: Billy Jupp
Costume designer: Klaire Jamin
Casting: Manuel Puro

97 minutes