The Atom: A Love Affair
- Emma Simmonds
- 11 May 2020
Entertainingly assembled documentary about the West's tempestuous relationship with nuclear power
If nuclear power isn't the sexiest subject for intimate interrogation, then debut feature filmmaker Vicki Lesley seems to have found the solution with a surface-skimming, peppily assembled documentary which takes us through the key plot points as the West harnesses atomic energy as a force for peace and prosperity and then suffers a series of disastrous disappointments. Arranged around the concept of a bad romance, it's a neat-enough conceit which gives the science a smattering of popular appeal, while Lily Cole adds a note of remote glamour as the narrator.
Beginning in the 1950s with America's global propaganda drive, which reinvents nuclear energy as a prestige field brimming with potential, it takes us through the enthusiastic building of power stations, to the environmental activism that followed, the spiralling costs that made it such a terrible investment, and the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, which dealt the industry near death blows. Fairly unbiased as it depicts the twists and turns of an on / off relationship, The Atom: A Love Affair brings together voices from the nuclear industry with notable activists, politicians and scientists.
Evidently aimed at the curious-minded rather than those already well-versed in events, Lesley (who writes, directs and produces) skilfully balances the weighty words of experts with sometimes amusing and irreverent archive footage, briskly edited together to form a colourful patchwork of conflicting viewpoints that's never less than interesting. However, in keeping with its approach as an even-handed overview, the tragedies mentioned don't get the screen-time they deserve, and neither the passionate defenders of atomic energy, nor those who've devoted their lives to fiercely opposing it, really have a chance to make their cases in a way that hits home. Instead, it's a stubbornly sprightly summary of a still-raging debate.
Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 15 May.