Almost six years ago, on 14 June 2017, the country looked on in horror as a high-rise block of flats caught fire in North Kensington. The faulty cladding of Grenfell Tower may as well have been kindling for the aggressive fire that lasted for 60 hours, taking the lives of 72 residents. In the time since, Grenfell has taken on the status of a modern-day cautionary tale about injustice and imbalance in our society. The fire may have been six years ago, but the haunting feeling is ever-present. Opening this week at London’s Serpentine Gallery, filmmaker and artist Steve McQueen’s Grenfell is an intimate 24-minute art film that gives us a glimpse inside the flats of Grenfell in the months following the disaster.
The film features a single, unbroken shot captured from a helicopter, providing a unique perspective on the aftermath.
We open the familiar sounds of a busy world; the hum of traffic, birdsong, planes and police sirens. A striking wide shot of greenery and a creamy blue sky follows, as we hover over the outskirts of London. The camera’s slow, deliberate movement gradually pushes us closer into the heart of the capital, where the densely populated pulse of human life becomes increasingly evident.
Rows of nondescript houses packed tightly together and a steady flow of traffic underscore the fact that despite the tragedy that occurred at Grenfell, life goes on.
We’re waiting for Grenfell to be revealed. After several pregnant minutes of a god’s-eye view pushing ever closer to the tower, we feel suspense, even fear.
The angle takes a sharp right-hand turn as we drift into the cluster of buildings and houses and see the misty, congested fog that hangs over the city.