Atomic: Living In Dread And Promise

Mark Cousins is the latest filmmaker to make use of the BFI’s extensive archive while hooking up with a well-regarded musical act. Cousins and Scottish band Mogwai have following in the footsteps of Penny Woolcock/British Sea Power, whose 2012 collage film From The Sea To The Land Beyond examined the British coast, and Kim Longinotto/Richard Hawley, whose Love Is All… raided the Institute’s vaults for a comprehensive study of British celluloid romance. As the title suggests, this one attempts to examine the nuclear age in a balanced way, and as you’d expect the footage selected by this broad-minded director, writer and curator is both inherently fascinating and wide-ranging: it covers Hiroshima, the Cold War, the development of nuclear energy, CND protests at Greenham Common, Chernobyl and much more. Though Mogwai on paper seem like the ideal band to score such a portentous, heavy documentary, something’s missing here and the marriage between the footage and their post-rock soundscapes – often starting quiet and building to a grand scale – occasionally jars with the footage, which too often feels like a whistle-stop tour of the 20th century. But then how do you squeeze all of the major events mentioned above into 90 minutes? (***)