We toss the phrase “Kafkaesque nightmare” out whenever we or someone we hear about is buried under the impersonal, uncaring bureaucracy of government.
But what does that really imply? It denotes a solitary human, a “citizen,” trapped in the maw of the machine of government, a machine that is deaf to your pleas, batting you around like a toy, chewing you up and spat out in the process.
That’s what happened to Anthony Bryan, one of the many thousands of longtime British residents forced, by the Conservative government there, to prove they belonged after decades of living, paying taxes and raising families in a country that lured them there with the promise of citizenship.
“Sitting in Limbo” is a British immigration debacle that is the very definition of “Kafkaesque nightmare.”
Bryan, like many others, found himself “Sitting in Limbo,” as this British TV film is titled. We see Bryan (Patrick Robinson), pushing 60, after spending half a century in his adopted country, kicked out of his job, ordered to report back to The Home Office “every fortnight,” while his status was “examined.”
Forced to submit, resubmit and submit a third time an ever changing array of paperwork, arrested and held in detention not once, but twice, and treated with a callous disregard for humanity, human rights and simple decency that Franz Kafka would easily recognize, his true story became the linchpin of Britain’s “Windrush Scandal.
The idea was to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants, a sort of ethnic cleansing by harassment of people deemed politically and legally vulnerable, a policy which apparently Donald Trump’s minions wanted to mimic when he held power.
Depressed, depopulated Britain invited immigrants from its colonies in the decades after World War II ended. That’s how Anthony Bryan arrived, at age eight, in the 1960s. Stella Corradi’s film lets us see him scramble to reconstruct that history to satisfy a widening selection of bureaucrats who either lose or ignore the paperwork submitted, or simply change what they expect him to produce.
“It’s up to you to provide evidence to support your claim,” one functionary snaps.
But you try tracking down school records from half a century ago, a passport of similar vintage, birth certificate from Jamaica.
Bryan sees his life ground down — forced out of his job because of his “status,” locked up with expensive lawyers as his only recourse, abruptly released without so much as “an apology,” asked for “proof of paternity” for his children.
His longtime partner Janet (Nadine Marshall) is the one quicker to anger at his treatment. They can joke over the fact that they never got married, which would have spared him this assault on his status and life.
“You should have gotten down on one knee years ago.”
But this is deadly serious business, as we see from the his confinement, and the news coverage that broke out about it in the film’s third act.
“Sitting in Limbo” isn’t on a par with the fine West Indian history/slice of life series Steve McQueen did (“Small Axe”). The acting is convincing, but this calamity isn’t given the pathos it deserves, although Robinson’s simmering outrage is palpable, even though his Bryan knows full well that the minute he loses his cool “they” have their excuse to summarily ship him out.
“It’s like I’m having to beg to stay in my own country.”
The film is best at putting a human face on the faceless “immigration debate,” in Britain and pretty much anywhere else. And Robinson, portraying shock, deflating defeat and helplessness in the maw of the machine, makes one compelling case among countless thousands by showing Anthony Bryan’s patience, forbearance and broken-hearted outrage that “my country” could do this to him.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, profanity
Cast: Patrick Robinson, Nadine Marshall, Pippa Bennett-Warner and C.K. Beckford
Credits: Directed by Stella Corradi, script by Stephen S. Thompson. A BBC One production, a Netflix release.
Running time: 1:29