New Town Utopia begins as a love letter to the new towns of the 1950s. A rabble-rising speech from Lewis Silkin MP from 1946 sets up the idealism of modern living where we could ‘keep the friendly spirit of the former slums’, where ‘people will live colourfully and gay amongst beauty, with theatres, cinemas, parks and art’. Like most things on these fine British shores, within 30 years it had become a broken, tired town known primarily for its brutality, unemployment and drug problems.
With all the best intentions, the design of Basildon is hard to fathom. Large brutalist council estates with dark warrens of underground pathways hardly made for the best policing. What is difficult to understand for the vast majority of us modern-day spoilt kids however, is that most of the people initially moving to Basildon were moving from the East End, a place still reeling from the war; families existed without inside toilets or kitchens, living in dangerous bomb-damaged slums with dreadful crime, unemployment and non-existent healthcare. This was a chance to a new start. Any man who could secure a job at the new factories in Basildon was promised a house, wives could be brought along to do the ‘woman things’.
With no railway station – the designers never thought any residents would need to leave the shiny new town – it rapidly became a prison for the working classes. Becoming so left wing it was named Moscow by the Sea by Thatcher, Basildon, like many other industrial towns in the 70s and 80s, was hit horrendously by government policy. The factories shut, the parks were built on, the council houses were sold off, theatres and arts centres closed, demolished and never replaced. New Town Utopia is a damning yet sadly typical example of the contempt Thatcher’s Tories had for the working class.
Narrated excellently by Jim Broadbent, New Town Utopia mainly uses the town’s poets, musicians and artists to tell its story. Local poets describe the issues in verse while standing outside boarded up shops or bookies, musicians sing their politically charged tunes. Art will find a way, and it’s a wonderful testament to the residents of Basildon that they kept up the amateur dramatics, the pottery classes, the youth centres, the music venues throughout the neglect of the political landscape enveloping them. Robert Marlow, Alison Moyet and Depeche Mode all began their journey in the arts centres of Basildon.
Yet the lessons have not been learnt. Today, the great park dividing the industrial areas from the community areas is being built on – sold off to property developers building expensive apartments for London commuters. Government’s treatment of the less affluent goes in cycles; Thatcher is derided by most outside the rich white middle classes, eventually we all had enough and kicked her out. Now Labour are doing same thing, slowly and silently creating their idealism of affluent young city workers in modern living spaces existing colourfully and gay amongst beauty. Now where have we heard that before?
Dir: Christopher Ian Smith
Cast: Jim Broadbent
Prd: Christopher Ian Smith
Music: Greg Haines
Run Time: 80 minutes
New Town Utopia is set for release on DVD and VOD on 9th July 2018.