In hindsight, Jimmy McGovern's Hillsborough is possibly a little over-rated, as it doesn't exactly go out of its way to let the audience draw its own conclusions about (undoubtedly) one of the most flagrant instances of British legal corruption in the Twentieth Century. But even if its message could have been stated a little more subtly, it was probably for the best that it wasn't, given the then-widespread misunderstanding of what happened on April 15th 1989. The Disaster had been badly and cynically misportrayed in the media and in Government for over seven years by the time the docu-drama was made, and correcting for this had to be the first priority. That the film had to be made at all was a tragedy in its own right, and over-rated or not, it is still one of the great British docu-dramas.
It is undeniably harrowing, effective viewing, acted with great realism by a gifted and knowledgeable cast; a very young Christopher Eccleston portrays Trevor Hicks so convincingly, for instance, that it's easy to miss that he was probably TOO young, while Ricky Tomlinson, as John Glover, shows he can do drama at least as effectively as he can do parody.
Every time I watch the film I well up, alternately wanting to cry at the needless loss of life, and shaking with the same powerless rage that the families of the Disaster's victims forever feel, in the face of the bungling and mendacity of the South Yorkshire Police force, and the heartless indifference of the Thatcher/Major Government. (How sad that the likes of Paul Middup, Irvine Patnick and Bernard Ingham weren't given the 'treatment' in this as well.)
Most of the scenes portraying the unfolding Disaster are remarkably well done given budget limits, although the reconstruction of the Leppings Lane terrace is a bit obvious. But what stands out above all is the very accurately bleak, almost insidious atmosphere. That 96 lives could be lost through such casual negligence, and that grieving relatives of the victims could be treated with such callous disregard, provide the bleakness; that such insensitive and cowardly attempts to obscure the causes could occur provides the insidiousness.
Sadly, the cut of the film that appears on this DVD has been significantly abridged (costing it a star in my rating); scenes showing medical information being falsified before submission to the Coroner's Inquests - including an officer being pressured into changing his statement - have been excised.
In the years after the film was made, it was discovered that the South Yorkshire Police had edited over one hundred and eighty statements that their officers had written for submission to the Inquiry into the Disaster. The edits were trying to play down reference to the poor performance of the match commanders and to play up references to supposed crowd misbehaviour. One is given to wonder what extra impact the film would have had, were these additional details known then. Between the 'mysterious disappearance' of two CCTV tapes from the stadium control room during the evening after the crush, the untrue assertion that one of the CCTV cameras covering pens 3 & 4 on Leppings Lane was malfunctioning, the pressuring of several key witnesses to change their stories, the editing of official witness statements, the incorrect imposition of a 3:15pm 'cut-off' time for information from the day of the Disaster to be considered valid at the Coroner's Inquests, and the persistent smear campaign against the Liverpool supporters in the media, the Hillsborough cover-up should be seen as one of the most vile legal scandals in living memory. How no one in the SYP has ever been convicted over the cover-up (to say nothing of over the Disaster itself) is an indictment of the British judicial system.