Robinson is commissioned to investigate the unspecified "problem of England." The narrator describes his seven excursions, with the unseen Robinson, around the country.
Its some feat that this film can spend ten minutes pondering the architectural merits of Reading without inducing fidgety bum syndrome. Fans of writer-director Patrick Keiller's earlier companion piece, London, will know what to expect; others will be surprised that a flick with no actors, just an unseen narrator and a stream of no-frills shots of motorways, shopping malls and haulage yards, can stir the grey matter and crease the laughter lines.
The idea is that a fictional leftie called Robinson is compiling a study "The Problem Of England" for an ad agency, which takes him on a series of jaunts around the country. Veteran thesp Paul Scofield does voiceover honours as the unnamed researcher who accompanies him.
The film's dry humour springs from juxtaposing the deadpan script delivery against often incongruous imagery (mostly man-made structures) from the antique (Eton College) to the newish (a Bendy Toys factory). Literary references and anti-Tory sentiments blend in with trivia about plasterboard manufacturing statistics and such personal obsessions as spies.
The text only hints at exactly what this tantalising tour is getting at, though the fact the camera dwells on scenes of utter soullessness with barely a human face in sight, indicates that this is no feelgood tribute to the nation's rulers.
Although the unvarying pace and repetition begins to grind after an hour or so, it's an enigmatic experiment with an incisive charm all its own, and it should leave sceptical students of social history with plenty of fuel for post-movie pub chatter.