Powerful Human Stories: Review of The Divide documentary

When The Spirit Level was launched in 2009 people understandably focused on the unprecedented amount of data and graphs that demonstrated how more equal societies do better. But the book had plenty of vignettes to round out the statistical evidence such as the Bristol parents who, tragically and unapologetically, encouraged their toddlers to fight each other so they could better survive the unequal, dog-eat-dog world they had been born into.

The Divide documentary, which had its cinematic UK premiere last night at the Picturehouse Cinema in London’s West End, takes the human story of inequality to a whole new level. It focuses on the lives of people across the income spectrum in the US and UK and shows how the stresses and strains of inequality impact on their lives.

At the bottom of the pile it shows the lives of those who are ground down by either prison, low-paid work or unemployment. In the middle it shows those who are, on the surface, doing well enough but are clearly stressed and have no time for family or a social life – and at the top we meet those who live miserably in gated communities or who have escaped the world of high finance and low morals. The film brilliantly, yet subtly, illustrates that living in an unequal society really does cause harm pretty much all the way up the socio-economic spectrum.

The film also interweaves the stories of these people with the history of the last thirty or forty years which has seen the rich soar away from the rest of us. It shows how this process was aided by now largely discredited, but sadly still operative, economic theories. And the film ends on a positive note showing that people can fight back and change their circumstances by taking collective action.

The film is beautifully shot and lit and, although taking its time to dwell on the dark subject of inequality and the harm it causes, it has some piercing moments of humour, most of which are provided by the rather sad and ridiculous lives of the rich. There is a jaw-dropping moment towards the end relating to the gated community but to go any further would be a spoiler. To find out more, you really must go and see it

Bill Kerry, Supporters and Local Groups Manager