Film & TV

2021 in Film and TV: A Retrospective

Help (Channel 4)

By Pui Kuan Cheah

There were so many films I considered mentioning here, but I have to give this to Help, the timely TV movie released on Channel 4. Following Sarah, who starts working at a care home in Liverpool in early 2020, Help intimately presents the heartbreaking realities of the crises care homes around the UK faced during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the news we saw at the time usually centered around the residents, their families, and their stories of separation, this feature instead focused more on the situation from the perspective of a care home worker. 

With the pandemic still ongoing, the mix of pain, panic, and confusion portrayed by the characters still feel raw and fresh. In fact, some parts were definitely uncomfortable to watch given its realism, but all the more needed to confront us with the truth we see little of. Jodie Comer leads wonderfully as Sarah, and we are treated to a performance that reminds us again why she is one of the best young English actors working now. Stephen Graham plays Tony, a patient with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and at no point is overshadowed by Comer’s performance – they share the screen in perfect harmony, brilliant acting complementing each other. It’s a crucial watch for everyone, and the third act is bound to stir a range of emotions. 

Maid (Netflix)

By Martha Jennings

Released in October on Netflix, Margaret Qualley brings to life the character of Alex in Maid, inspired by Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. At 23 years old, Alex flees from an abusive relationship from her ex-partner and father to her two-year-old, Maddy. With little family support and no house, Alex gains a job cleaning houses, where at one client’s house she befriends Yolanda, a single mum also facing the challenges of raising a child by herself. Throughout Alex’s quest to build a better future for her and Maddy, she is faced with many legal, financial, and relationship difficulties. Just figuring out where they can sleep for the night is one of the many daily anxieties which dominate their world. 

What makes Maid so memorable is the rawness and vulnerability of living in poverty shown and the incredible bravery it can take to want a better life. As the audience, we ride the rollercoaster of ups and downs, successes and setbacks that mother and daughter face. Particularly, we watch as Alex’s journey leads to growth in self-confidence, strength, and self-love. The ending of the 10-part drama is a feeling of pure happiness as we reflect on the pain and hardships which the two have endured to reach their goal – with which they succeed! 

Sardar Udham (Amazon Prime Video)

By Zainab Javed

Images of open wounds, severed hands, and children, dead and bleeding, come viscerally alive in the last one hour of Sardar Udham, where director Shoojit Sarcar and actor Vicky Kaushal wholly immerse us into the violence of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. The camera lingers on our eponymous protagonist as he rummages through the piles of mutilated bodies, crying into the deadly night ‘Koi Zinda Hai?’ (Is anyone still alive). Even though it has been a few months since I watched the film, I can still feel the intrinsic horror of this question that Udham posed as he looked for the wounded amongst the countless dead. It is a feeling I am unable to shrug off, and this perhaps is the sign of a good film.

Sardar Udham retells the life of a man about whom little is known. He was an Indian revolutionary, an indelible figure in the Indian Independence Movement who was tried and subsequently hanged for the assassination of Michael O’ Dwyer, the governor of Punjab at the time of the horrific, aforementioned massacre. It is a story worth being told. The film also stands out because of its non-linear structure as it jumps across continents and timelines, following Udham through his twenty-one-year-old journey of revenge. But most importantly, the story of Sardar Udham Singh epitomizes the yearning for freedom against colonialism by attempting to recollect an event which was very conveniently pushed aside in the pages of history, and I am eternally grateful for Sardar Udham as it is one of the few bright sparks to emerge out of a sea mediocrity this year.