Review: Invisible Britain is A Seething Film For Cameron’s Age of Austerity

Although it has echoes of a previous era, ‘Sleaford Mods - Invisible Britain’ is definitely a film for the times. Young Corbynistas and diehard Old Labour will certainly appreciate its themes, and those who are interested in minimalist and post-punk music will not be disappointed either. The band is made up of duo Jason Williamson and Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn, both clearly passionate about their craft as well as the issues of poverty, society and class which their own experiences have informed. As I watched, I was uncomfortably aware of my middle class, privileged, white, Tory-leaning and academic background. The most I can say in my defence is that I went to a comprehensive school. I say this at the beginning of this review merely to highlight that ‘Sleaford  Mods - Invisible Britain’ is clearly not aimed at me and in no way tries to cater towards those who are doing fairly well out of Cameron’s Britain.

‘Invisible Britain’ is meant as a rallying cry for those who are often forgotten, people without a voice who live mostly outside trendy cosmopolitan or idyllic rural Britain. The opening shots of the film demonstrate this perfectly: images of the English countryside that evoke feelings of village greens and tea with the vicar are followed by grey and depressing shots from tired towns in the less prosperous parts of the country. Part band documentary part political polemic, it was filmed as Sleaford Mods toured Britain in the run up to the 2015 General Election and includes many places that ‘people would prefer to ignore’ including Barnsley, Scunthorpe and curiously Tunbridge Wells (where at least one of the songs was performed in ‘Invisible Britain’).  Invisible Britain has a certain rhythm as voiceover introduces issue after issue, bringing in visual graphics and talking heads, before being followed by a rendition of an appropriate song from the band’s catalogue. Its focus is on various themes such as benefits, homelessness, unemployment, discrimination and political apathy.

There is certainly an element of self-promotion in the film and the viewer goes away with a much deeper understanding of the band’s origins, motivations and likely fans. This is completely understandable and for me was quite an education as director Paul Sng highlights the debate over musical influences and genre, something of which I will profess my ignorance. Some of the fans describe the music as like being ‘shouted at’ and at times the documentary can feel a bit like that as well. This seething anger is palpable throughout, and just as likely to be seen in the political sections as the musical cutaways.

as much a music documentary as a political narrative

The righteous indignation that is vented against some of the iniquities of society is highly commendable, if also completely partisan. This is a shame as this means Invisible Britain is not aimed to convert but merely to reinforce existing views of people who are likely already in agreement with the film’s premise. The talking heads are all people who agree with or are fans of Sleaford Mods, so any attempt to challenge those who hold a different view is lost. The narrator’s talk of sustained and senseless ‘attacks’ and the ‘brutal implications’ of Tory government as well as Sleaford Mods own admission (even jokingly) that anyone is welcome at their concerts ‘except Tories’ undermines what are very important points being made about the state of society. There is a sense that anyone who is not a card-carrying member of the Socialist Workers Party cannot possible hold the same opinions about the barbarities of the ‘joint enterprise law’ or the tragic consequences of Work Capability Assessment.

This is perhaps a flaw as Sng highlights some very important points that need to be discussed and debated. It will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who is seeking to be outraged by austerity Britain and the music will appeal to the many fans of Sleaford Mods. Just a warning, this is as much a music documentary as a political narrative and if you are not a fan of Sleaford Mods’ music there are fairly lengthy renditions of their songs throughout the film. Visually very appealing, well-shot and directed, anyone who is interested in the fusion of politics and music will certainly be able to take something away from it. It is expertly edited, meaning that there is just enough balance between the issues and the music. Invisible Britain will certainly have a niche appeal but limits itself from being that popular beyond the hard left echo chamber who will likely need little convincing in terms of the film’s core message.

More about the author

About the author

Stewart holds a PhD in eighteenth century political history from UCL, having previously studied for a BA and MA in history at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

He is currently working as a Part-Time Tutor for Oxford University’s Continuing Education Department as well as helping to create and launch an online historical archive of magazine-style feature articles written by history graduates called The Past.

Follow Stewart on Twitter.

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