Matthew Bunkell, from the Picturehouse Customer Service team, takes a look at this week’s Discover Tuesdays film, Attacking The Devil: Harold Evans And The Last Nazi War Crime.
Directors: David Morris, Jacqui Morris. UK 2014. 102 mins.
In light of the scandals of the past decade, it may sometimes be difficult to find redeeming qualities in parts of the established journalism sector. Seemingly dragging its own name through the mud with stories of phone hacking and fabrication, the press’s sole function appears to have been diluted with populist rhetoric and ethical deviance. Bringing us a powerful contrast to this narrative is the quite frankly strikingly heart-rending documentary Attacking The Devil: Harold Evans And The Last Nazi War Crime.
At the tail end of the ’50s a new ‘wonder drug’, Thalidomide, crept its way onto the British market. With very few conclusive tests as to the effects of this product, the drug was sold as a prescription for calming morning sickness during pregnancy. However, horrific consequences followed – with those who suffered the most unable to even contemplate the abject destruction caused by a small group of businessmen.
Enter Harold Evans, the then editor of The Sunday Times, who crusaded diligently for nearly ten years in order to bring this atrocity into the public consciousness and hold accountable Distillers, the company responsible for this ruination. However, the organisation’s reluctance to provide adequate compensation prompted further investigation, which uncovered vestiges of a dark history surrounding the drug.
As if almost perfectly timed with its blood relative, the Academy Award-winning Spotlight, Attacking The Devil celebrates the back-to-basics approach of print journalism whilst lamenting the bureaucracy of the time. With the press gagged by the law of contempt, this investigation was no easy task. Sibling directors Jacqui and David Morris (their previous work McCullin revolved around the work of war photographer Don McCullin, also of The Sunday Times) bring to the screen the same feelings of frustration and disbelief felt by those fighting to hold together their lives in the face of betrayal by government factions put in place to protect them.
The piece makes no song and dance about its subject. The film approaches the issues straight down the line, in the same manner that Evans and his team did back in the ’60s. Interviews with both the victims and valiant journalists are interwoven with archive footage. They reveal the story as starkly as the black-and-white print on paper from the original indignant and unforgiving articles.
Attacking The Devil serves as much as a vindicating and life-affirming piece of filmmaking as it does an astonishing document of accountability of the state and private sector.
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Every day MUBI’s in-house experts hand-pick a beautiful new film and you have 30 days to watch it. £4.99 a month with the first month free for Picturehouse customers. mubi.com/picturehouse