We all see disaster and tragedy every day now on our news media of choice; the dead, the injured, the lost – we see them all. What we see less of is the deep scars that any individual tragedy leaves on families and communities – not just the feeling of loss, but in many cases the sense of injustice or unfairness of the whole thing. Mike Forshaw’s film Saturday, focuses on one of the worst sporting disasters in British history (Hillsborough), and it is our pick today because of how well it captures that sense of wider damage, while also treating the victims with the respect they deserve.
The Hillsborough disaster occurred on April 15th 1989 at a soccer match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Police tried to ease crowding outside the stadium by allowing more and more fans into one part of the stadium. The overcrowding and crushing within this fenced area led to 96 deaths, and 766 injuries. In the wake of this, police blamed Liverpool fans for the disaster, causing a fight for justice which sparked inquests and inquiries lasting decades. Finally the process exonerated the victims, and went some small way to heal the deep wounds of this disaster. It is a complex and shocking history that is worth reading about, but none of the detail will be found in Saturday. Instead it simplifies the narrative into something that impacts at a base level, something that deals with the wider impact of any disaster, and something that will resonate with viewers whether you know about Hillsborough or not.
“I was completely struck by this image because it was the first time I’d ever seen a man cry”
Faced with such a potentially huge drama, Mike instead focuses his film outside the ground, with a starting point direct from his own life. He recalls “when I was 8yrs old, I came home one Saturday afternoon and found an inconsolable young man being comforted by my Dad. I was completely struck by this image because it was the first time I’d ever seen a man cry. He had given his friend a ticket to watch Liverpool FC’s match at Hillsborough, and his friend was one of the 96 fans who never came home.”
The film focuses on the family of this 8 year-old boy on the day of the disaster. In doing so it removes the narrative clutter of the history and the context, and captures the impact of the events far beyond the stadium. The family are established as a microcosm of the wider community, while also linking directly to the disaster, and providing a small stage on which to present a lot. There is a tangible sense of foreboding and tension through the whole film and in particular there are a few short sequences where the viewer connects directly to the disaster unfolding within the stadium. It does this in ways which are creative, commendably restrained, and yet incredibly powerful.
This weekend marks 28 years since the day of the disaster, and Saturday is a responsible, fresh, and moving, way to pay respects to the victims, but also consider the deep and wide-ranging impacts that a disaster such as Hillsborough has on individuals, families, and communities.