Film Review — Citadel

Director: John Smith
Release Date: 26/01/21
Platform: Mubi

The citadel of British artist John Smith’s new film is one of capital: the City of London’s financial district with its sway over the actions of our political leaders and our personal lives — a fact that has undoubtedly led to many unnecessary deaths during the Covid crisis.

A camera remains in the same location over the course of the year, fixed on the glass fortress of the Square Mile. Seasons change, the view is impeded by day turning to night or an impenetrable fog draped over the city; but whilst the world around tumbles into the chaos of a global pandemic and reckons with the new reality of confinement, the citadel abides with an apparent air of timelessness. Several key speeches made by Boris Johnson at press conferences during the last year play over the top, the juxtaposition between the country’s financial heartland and the prime minister’s words highlighting the influence the former has over the latter.

At times Smith’s citadel resembles a Gothic castle looming over the surrounding landscape, its inescapable capitalist realist logic dominating the psychology of London’s inhabitants; the illusion of permanence undermined by the irony that most of the buildings have been built to a low spec and will need to be torn down within this century. Even in its own totemic constructions, capital is short-sighted and transient.

In one of the most striking scenes in the film, the lights of the City flicker like a VU meter as Johnson’s disembodied voice appears to emanate from its anonymous buildings, transforming the landscape into a scene from a sci-fi dystopia. It would be hard to find a more effective visual metaphor to describe the priorities of the current government in handling the pandemic.

Rather than the great British myth of coming together in a crisis, Smith shows that Covid has really accelerated the forces that divide and atomise us. Towards the end of the sixteen-minute short, the windows of people’s homes flash S-O-S into a cold, ambivalent night; but the truth is that we no longer exist in communities that help each other in a crisis. The triumph of Neoliberalism has meant we are all on our own and no-one is coming to save us.

Whilst Jeff Bezos’s fortune grew by $78 billion during the last year, food banks in the UK saw an unprecedented boom in demand. The economic precarity that existed for many before the pandemic has only been exacerbated and the inequality gap has widened. The walls separating us all from the Citadel have just become that much higher.