The title suggests something Biblical, a watery wrath visited upon inhabitants by a vengeful God. But Anthony Woodley’s The Flood deals with a very modern-day crisis – that of refugees. Scripted by Helen Kingston, it arrives inspired by accounts from Woodley of his time working in the Calais “jungle”, the infamous shanty town that sprang up in the French port as thousands of refugees holed up in the hope of making it to the United Kingdom, legally or otherwise.
One such journey takes centre stage in The Flood. When the film starts, we don’t know much about the background of Haile (Ivanno Jeremiah), where he comes from or why he’s left his country, apart from some brief shots of him in military uniform. Told in flashback, we do know where he’ll end up – in a tiny windowless room in a UK detention centre, telling his story to Wendy (Lena Headey), an immigration officer with troubles of her own.
If the back-and-forth structure proves rather laboured at times, it doesn’t get in the way of the simple power of Haile’s arduous trek, one that has likely been trodden by many other real-life political asylum seekers. The central portion of the story sees him arrive at the Calais jungle, hungry and homeless, where he finds the kindness of strangers isn’t always purely altruistic. Everyone is on the make, everyone is desperate to leave.
Co-starring Iain Glen as Headey’s immigration officer colleague and Mandip Gill as a fellow refugee who extends the hand of friendship to Haile, The Flood features some shocking scenes that are wisely underplayed by Woodley. The escape to the UK, via a lorry driver who is evidently part of a large chain dedicated to people-smuggling, is horrendous to watch, but will be familiar to anyone who has seen the countless documentaries on the subject.
Whether you will be as taken with the head-to-head between Wendy and Haile is another matter. Her own issues seem to pale by comparison, and her character feels more of a device than anything, though credit Headey for giving Wendy more depth than is written on the page. Still, directed with dignity and grace by Woodley, this film brings a very real humanitarian crisis into sharp focus.
The Flood opens on 21 June. For more details, visit Curzon Artificial Eye.
1. All stills from The Flood.