A BBC Two documentary on buildings? Why would that be interesting to any normal person?
Urban renewal is a fascinating subject. Greedy developers, homelessness, local government affairs, working-class people being thrown out of their estates: these changes in our city centres are in fact the marks of the battleground on which the future of our cities is being fought. A four-part documentary on the subject set in Manchester, once more a boomtown, can only be amazing.
And you know what: it is.
The show mainly follows property developer Tim Heatley, and his many building sites across central Manchester. While Tim is at the heart of this documentary, spread around him are a group of politicians, estate agents, renters, rough sleepers and buyers, who sprawl around him, much like Greater Manchester sprawls around the city centre. However, the boom that raises Tim and his colleges up threatens to unsettle and disrupt the order of things.
The tone of each episode so far has been different, with the second lighter than the first, and the third much darker
Despite this, there are strong arguments shown that the boom is bringing. The tone of each episode so far has been different, with the second lighter than the first, and the third much darker. This is intoxicating, grabbing the viewer, and compelling us to find out where the next episode is going. I can’t wait for the final episode, to find out what happens to Piccadilly East, and whether Tim Heatley is a heroic pragmatist, or an anti-hero. The best (or worse) part is, this is real life, rather than TV drama.
One of the best features is the realism in which these people are presented. Property developer Tim Heatley might be involved in an industry that could cause major social problems, but the documentary also focusses on his involvement in Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s homelessness charities, and his efforts to build sustainable housing in Salford. So far, he has come across as a kind, realistic person, who is aware of his social responsibility (although there are clearly still issues with urban renewal and the amount of affordable houses he’s built.)
We are forced to leave our prejudices at the door, because the people we are watching repeatedly surprise us
Salford Mayor Paul Dennett is clearly a passionate and principled politician, but he caves to residents on an issue which evidently disadvantages their communities. This complicated selection of contradictory characteristics could take the sting out of the documentary, but the realism is compelling. To put it simply, we are forced to leave our prejudices at the door, because the people we are watching repeatedly surprise us.
I don’t ever remember enjoying a documentary more, and for that reason, I can only give it full marks.
The final episode aired on Tuesday night, so you can watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Last modified: 10th September 2020