★★★☆☆Unlike recent pioneering archive-led offerings such as Penny Woolcock's British Sea Power collaboration From the Sea to the Land Beyond and John Akomfrah's The Stuart Hall Project, Paul Kelly's How We Used to Live (2013) isn't a great deal more than what it appears at first glance - an audiovisual document of a London now consigned to history. This is vérité at its most refined, with occasional interjections from Ian McShane kept to a bare minimum in order to allow rolls of colour footage from the BFI National Archive to do the talking. As such, there's not a huge amount to be gleaned from Kelly's collage other than what we see, with the film as a whole peaking and troughing.
From strip clubs and spit-and-sawdust boozers to the remarkably untouched underground network, the National Archive clearly has it covered. What's frustratingly absent from How We Used to Live, however, is any sense of deeper analysis. Whereas Woolcock's From the Sea to the Land Beyond lamented the gradual disappearance of the traditional British seaside jaunt and Akomfrah's The Stuart Hall Project had the titular late cultural theorist to give greater, profound meaning to the footage provided, McShane's sporadic commentary is almost entirely redundant. A fine advert for the BFI National Archive, then, but Kelly's fifth directorial effort (following on from 2011's Lawrence of Belgravia) isn't quite as unmissable a film artefact as it perhaps could have been in more innovative hands.
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