The Pandemic Poem asks Where Did the World Go?

Friday: A Pandemic Poem: Where Did the World Go?; (BBC2, 9pm)

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 5:00 pm

The Covid-19 virus was first identified in December 2019, in Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei province. It has infected 171 million people and killed more than 3.5 million.

It brought the global scientific community together like never before in the race to develop a vaccine, and forced billions of people to stay at home.

The words ‘social distancing’, ‘masking’ and ‘the new normal’ were suddenly on everyone’s lips (even if you couldn’t see them), while governments scrambled first to get their hands on PPE, then vaccines.

Covid is arguably the toughest test modern humans have faced, and whatever your opinions about whether we have passed or failed, it has also given rise to some incredible bouts of creativity.

Art of all kinds has flowed from some of the world’s biggest stars, and although Gal Gadot’s attempt to bring people together on social media fell a little flat compared to the welcome Taylor Swift’s music received, other artists have been right on the money with their take on the pandemic.

Among them is Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. He’s no stranger to TV, and was among the presenters of Winter Walks, a pre-lockdown series filmed by the hosts on hand-held, 360-degree cameras. He gave audiences an intimate and immersive view as he wandered along Yorkshire’s historic frontier with the North Sea, while in an edition of Building Sights, he explained how he found inspiration in the Humber Bridge.

Armitage, who is also the brains behind BBC Radio 4’s podcast series The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed, makes a welcome return to the small screen with the airing of this extended film poem.

For Where Did The World Go?, he partnered with director Brian Hill to create what the Sheffield Doc Fest dubbed “an artistic response to the health crisis”, as they set out to record and document what was happening to people up and down the country.

The result is a powerful and moving examination of the pandemic, using a poem written by Armitage that charts the progression of the pandemic, from the early rumours arriving from Wuhan in China, to the rollout of the vaccination programme and the eventual easing of lockdown. Around this central narrative we meet a diverse group of characters from across the UK, each of whom recounts their own experiences of living through the past 18 months.

The contributors include Matthew, who lost his 200-year-old family business, pub landlord Andy, who fed thousands of people in Preston for a penny per meal, Comfort, an asylum seeker who struggled with her mental health during lockdown, and young mum Victoria, who paints a picture of the trials and hilarities of looking after children all day and every day.

The film highlights the resilience of people, the desire to help others, and the strength of family and community. Thrown into the mix are archive footage, contemporary dance and musical sequences, and while the end result might not be to everyone’s taste, it is certain to keep us talking long after the credits have rolled.

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