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Working For The Enemy

© Tim Pozzi / Daily Telegraph

Sean McAllister’s bleak, extraordinarily intimate film offers an insight into the lives of 35-year-old Kevin, who hasn’t worked in 18 years, and his 19-year-old girlfriend Robbie, who earns £70 a week as a seamstress.

“In an ideal world what would you like to do?” asks the man at the employment centre charged with the thankless task of getting Kevin back to work. “I would like to be left alone to draw,” comes the surly reply. In fact Kevin is a very talented artist, but views the notion of putting his gift into the service of others as giving in to the “system” he despises.

Robbie is not so sure, and would like a little extra cash to spend. There are scenes of drunkenness, drug-taking and unpleasant arguments, but at the core of the bitterness and anger that fuels their existence is quite a touching love story.”

© Time Out

Compelling… achieves an intimacy few documentarists dare

© Thomas Sutcliffe / The Independent

This was most striking in Saturday night’s programme Working for the Enemy, a film gifted with one of those characters who press on an inflamed social nerve. Kevin had been unemployed for 18 years and had no intention of surrendering that status, whatever the plans of the local social security office.’

If Kev had been stupid or vicious, this wouldn’t have been very illuminating, but he wasn’t – he was talented (he drew striking pictures, which he filed with a care that belied his pose of renegade insouciance), as well as nimble-witted. The scene in which he sparred with a job-training officer was a comedy of mutual incomprehension in which the social Band-aid kept coming unstuck because Kev simply wouldn’t accept that he was hurt.

In fact, his logic of non-collaboration was flawed – and I think, at heart, he knew it – but the film let you get close enough to see those doubts, particularly when his own sense of propriety was aroused by his girlfriend’s drug-taking. I still don’t buy the title’s implicit pitch for thematic unity, but ‘United Kingdom’ is, at least, establishing itself as a brand-name of quality.

© Ian Parker / The Observer

‘Subtle, patient television bound to unsettle… it’s hard to imagine a better film about nothing happening, about someone wanting nothing to happen’

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