51 Degrees North film review – if the end was nigh

Grigorij Richters imagines the London apocalypse in 51 Degrees North

51 Degrees North qualifies as a disaster movie if you want – it features a countdown to a cataclysmic asteroid event and a protagonist who’s doing something about civilisation’s impending doom, even if Damon Miller (Moritz von Zeddlemann) is no Bruce Willis.

Ostensibly, it’s about directing public awareness to the potential threat that asteroids pose to Earth in the wake of the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteorite airburst over Russia. At least, that’s what the director and various luminaries (including Queen musician Brian May and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins) endorsing this film want it to achieve.

But because almost every other character is oblivious to their impending doom, what it is, is a snapshot of a man who knows that everything he’s ever known will very shortly be snuffed out.

Damon Miller is a filmmaker who lives in London churning out very successful, but soul-destroying YouTube videos for the corporate machine. When the opportunity arises to document the end of the world for a shady government agency (who will be watching the end of the world from the relative safety of an orbital space station) in return for the safe passage of his pregnant girlfriend Ann (Dolly-Ann Osterloh) off the Earth, Damon jumps at the chance.

Shot from the perspective of a handheld camera and London CCTV footage, 51 Degrees North effectively captures Damon’s rapid descent into hysteria as the day of impact approaches, while the rest of London goes about its mindless business, including Damon’s increasingly frustrated agent Michael (Steven Cree).

At an hour and 30 it’s still around half an hour too long: protracted scenes of daily London life don’t make for great cinema and we didn’t really buy Damon’s crazy procrastinating in the form of a bathroom plastered with John Nash-style ravings. But it’s more original than any Hollywood disaster flick, definitely more authentic and thus very though-provoking.

If a doomsday asteroid really was on an inevitable collision course with Earth, it’s pretty likely that few of us would know about it until the last moment. What would you do?