Set the Thames on Fire follows two young men’s episodic adventures through the dank alleys and depraved nightlife of a ravaged London. Director Ben Charles Edwards’s background as a painter is evident in his directorial debut. This genre film is visually stunning. Fans of Terry Gilliam will see his influence on this first-time director.
The film pits ignorance against decadence as we follow lovelorn piano actor Art (Michael Winder) and wannabe soldier Sal (Max Bennett). Art is a down-on-his-luck, lowlife pianist whose momentum has stalled in a grief-filled frozen moment: he is shipwrecked on the lonesome shore of his own life. Sal is a cracked pinball machine—full of energy, light, and fun but out of control and dangerously chaotic. Their grim adventure begins when the boys meet while working a cocktail party for the rich and violent and their relationship begins to blossom.
The boys become enmeshed in the cogs of fate as they turn, like two rats caught in the machinery of Big Ben, and are dragged ever nearer to a terrifying conclusion. Despite the darkness and danger, the boys find solace and laughter in one another and bloom like weeds in the gutter. With nothing to lose, they fall through the clockwork of the city in search of escape and, perhaps, even hope renewed. Ever present in the background is the dark and powerful Thames River, representing the forces of nature, chance, and instinct.
Official selection: 2016 Palm Springs International Film Festival, 2016 Belfast Film Festival