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Incendiary Review

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A young mother (Williams) lives on a London council estate with her bomb-squad husband and young son. She begins an affair with newspaper journalist Jasper (McGregor), but her life changes forever when a terrorist attack hits an Arsenal match.

★★★★★

The book on which this is based was published the day of the 7/7 attacks on London. Ordinarily that might be of little more than trivial interest, but given that the book centres around a massive and devastating terrorist attack in the British capital, it’s unfortunately on the nose. The terrifyingly familiar premise, then, sets up an indie drama that touches on the big issues — before bottling it in a trite finish.

Living on a council estate and married to a distant man, our heroine is an unnamed wife and mother played by Michelle Williams, with a convincing accent but perhaps too much poise for a self-confessed ignoramus. Her only solace is her four year-old son (Sidney Johnston). Williams’ heartfelt narration about her love for him strikes a foreboding note that’s maintained until the fateful attack scene.

While Williams made an excellent middle-class Brit in Me Without You, she doesn’t quite nail the persona of a “pikey” (she suggests Googling it, presumably for the US market). She’s never looked more beautiful, despite wolfing down endless fish and chips, and her narration shows a literary intelligence not reflected in either her circumstances or story. That said, she’s a good actress, and if she does not entirely convince, she does at least involve you in her plight. There’s a welcome lightness, too, when she’s chatted up by journo Jasper (Ewan McGregor, in aggressively charming form), and pathos when she tries to track down the family of a suicide bomber in a subplot that’s never quite developed.

Elsewhere, an avuncular Matthew Macfadyen veers between attractive and repulsive as the anti-terrorism head who tries to comfort our heroine. He and Jasper provide both love interest and broad platforms for comment on our response to terrorism, but it’s Williams’ character who makes it personal, penning a letter to Osama Bin Laden as therapy. This becomes all too saccharine in the film’s final frames, alas, leaving us with why-can’t-we-all-get-along? Truism rather than real insight.

Incendiary’s novelistic tone, uneven mood and inauthentic leading lady detract from the drama, but this is still a valiant effort to deal with a hot-button topic.

It’s an atmospheric drama and a strong turn from Williams, but doesn’t tell us anything about ourselves or the terrorists that we didn’t already know.