Incendiary review

Michelle Williams’ mesmerising performance and an affecting portrayal of a terror shattered London will give you a lump in the throat. Alas, scrappy plotting, shallow characters and whimsical dialogue give you a pain in the neck to go with it.

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

She’s got guts, Sharon Maguire. War-on-terror movies like Lions For Lambs are belly-flopping at the box office, so making her long-overdue second feature a tornfrom-the-headlines, anti-terrorism melodrama was one hell of a punt.

In addition, this tale of the tragic aftermath of a big-city bombing seems the polar opposite of her first film, the Chardonnay-swilling Bridget Jones’s Diary. But as it turns out, Incendiary is more like its dark counterpart, a grittily sentimental and unabashedly weepy ‘women’s picture’ that forces tears instead of cheers from its audience.

Once again, there’s a stunning central female performance, this time from Michelle Williams, seamlessly convincing and impeccably accented as a nameless chav slapper, neglected by her policeman husband but devoted to her little boy.

The latter pair die in a terrorist attack on the Arsenal stadium while she’s engrossed in sweaty sofa-sex with slick journalist neighbour Jasper (Ewan McGregor). Drowning in guilt, she develops an obsession with the young son of one of the suicide bombers.

Despite a punchy, horribly plausible start (the bombing and its aftermath is unnervingly realistic, a skilful CGI replay of 9/11’s giant falling debris and fleeing crowds), the movie can’t make up its mind whether it’s a thriller or a psychological study. Maguire obviously wants the storyline to reflect the fractured, nervy mindset of her characters and a city in crisis.

Yet as it bounces from Jasper’s desperate sleuthing into a Scotland Yard cover-up, to ‘Young Mother’s’ plucky, griefstricken letters to Osama Bin Laden, and then a tense police shoot-out, the plot becomes as scattered as its heroine.

Reducing its male characters (McGregor, Matthew Macfadyen) to two-dimensional onlookers doesn’t help either, as the movie gradually loses sight of everyone except Williams.

By then, Incendiary has become a tear-stained monologue about bereavement and resilience – it goes off with a bang, but ends with a whimper.

More info

Available platformsMovie
Less

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, New Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Jack Shepherd. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.