The Riots – In Their Own Words: Interviews with the Rioters are reconstructed by actors but I would’ve preferred to have seen the real thing

by Matt D

I honestly can’t believe it’s been a year since the whole of the country was shocked by images of rioting and looting in London scenes which quickly broke out all over the country. I was fortunate enough to not be affected by the riots though I know people in Wolverhampton and Manchester who were. To mark the anniversary of these events BBC2 are airing a two-part documentary series looking at the riots from the eyes of those were there starting with the rioters themselves. The documentary is based on interviews carried out by The Guardian and The London School of Economics with all of the people seen on screen being played by actors. To me this instantly gave the programme a sense of distance as I didn’t feel like it was a first-hand account but instead felt like an hours’ long Crimewatch reconstruction.

The documentary focuses solely on the riots in London, though those that occurred throughout the country are mentioned briefly, and obviously they start in Tottenham with the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police. This supposed peaceful protest is told from the point-of-view of two of Duggan’s acquaintances who for some reason are interviewed in the back of a car while smoking a joint and talking street innit. These two lads have the line of the night as one highlights the lack of importance the inquest into Duggan’s death was by saying, ‘if The Queen was snipered down there’d be an inquest.’ Another Tottenham native speaks of lying down in the road with other mothers who were there to get justice for Duggan’s family while later she became a nurse in a local shop where wounded protestors entered. As we all know the showdown between police and protestors escalated with the throwing of fruit and veg at the officers and finally it completely kicked off leading to 40 arrests and the injuries of 26 members of the police however this wasn’t the end by a long shot.

The other riots across London then bring in a whole host of other characters most of whom weren’t that aware of Duggan at all but just received text messages informing them that it was, ‘all kicking off’. The general consensus was that initially it was a party atmosphere but as more shops started to get smashed up it was all about free money and getting what you could. One girl recounted in detail of how originally she wanted to have nothing to do with the looting but once she’d tried it she thought it came naturally claiming that the adrenaline rush was part of her reason for doing it. Others claimed they did it because for the first time they had the power as the police were outmatched and couldn’t do anything to stop them although foolishly they forgot about the CCTV which would be their downfall when the arrests came. One of the interviews that stuck with me was from a very angry lad who said he looted the off-license that always asked him for ID, JD Sports who wouldn’t give him a job and Next who wanted him to buy shoes from them then didn’t even give him a job interview.

As events went further it seemed that looters were stealing from other looters as one of the interviewees, who was either eating chips or smoking weed throughout his segment, said that he just waited until other people had come out of the shops and then stole what they had taken. Criticisms of these later riots came from those who were in the first Duggan-related protest who said that a lot of these people had gone down the wrong path and lost the message which should’ve been about bringing down the police rather than trying to get what you could from the shops. This woman went as far as to stop them from breaking into her doctors and her pet shop as those are the places that she frequents as it was her neighbourhood that they were destroying. To me the most interesting part of the documentary came at the end when the rioters recollected their actions and had different reactions. The one girl who was looting with her mate said she know feels ashamed while another man with mental difficulties said that he regrets everything he did however he was off his medication at the time these riots began. On the whole though those who looted had an unrepentant attitude to it and if it happened again they would get involved which to me is just sad.

The Riots – In Their Own Words was a well-produced documentary taking full advantages of news footage, phone calls made during the looting and the interviews themselves to make you feel part of the action. As far as the interviews themselves go to me they felt fairly samey as the majority of those interviewed were young males from an ethnic background while the elder generation weren’t greatly represented. There’s one more middle class lady who seemed to have been included in the programme simply to provide a bit of contrast and to be a honest a little bit of humour as she recounts lightly kicking the wheel of a police car but making it sounding like she overthrew some sort of evil dictatorship. This woman reminded me of Eddy from Ab Fab as it seemed she got involved to be the ‘cool mum’ while in the background her teenage daughter stomped around and told her she was too old to have been involved in the riots. I still feel though that some older people could’ve been interviewed especially as we are told by one of the youngsters that they saw pensioners going into the shops with their wheely bags and piling them full of sports clothing. Another problem I had with the documentary was the acting which was very am dram and only occasionally did I actually believe I was watching the people that were actually part of the riots. It became really bad in the sections were a couple of those playing the interviewers suddenly realised they wanted a bit of character to so made stupid reaction faces to what they were hearing.

Overall The Riots – In Their Own Words was a well put-together programme which sought to explain why these people did what they did and to that extent I think it succeeded. Personally though I would’ve much preferred to have seen these interviews performed first-hand, which could’ve been done by masking the voices and faces of those participating, instead of acted by third parties who on the whole don’t particularly convince. This problem combined with the fact that the majority of the interviewees are young men means that this programme wasn’t nearly as compelling as it could’ve been though it was still interesting. Next week the police get the chance to have their say on events but let’s just hope they choose slightly better actors to portray the law enforcers then they did those who played the criminals.

What did you think to The Riots – In Their Own Words? Did the acting put you off too? Leave Your Comments Below.