The Great Plague

2001, History  -  60 min Leave a Comment
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Named after the cataclysmic event that claimed the lives of one out of every three Londoners in 1665, The Great Plague transports viewers to a time of great despair and devastation.

This deeply disturbing documentary calls upon a wealth of letters, diary entries, and newly unearthed documents to paint its vivid and visceral portrait of terror.

The citizens of London were weary from the possibility of another plague. It had been 19 years since the last episode, and they feared they were due for a reoccurrence.

At the time of The Great Plague, London's population had swelled to over a half a million people. This overcrowding put a great strain on the city's quality of life. In spite of the best efforts of sanitation workers, many of the streets were awash in sewage. As many animals and vermin roamed the cityscape as people. Poverty was its own epidemic, and those who existed on the bottom rungs of society were frequently the hardest hit by sickness and disease.

The bulk of the film's narrative takes place in Cock and Key Alley, an overpopulated parish that suffered an especially high rate of mortality during the plague. The initial sign of the oncoming calamity occurred outside of the community in April of 1665, but no amount of safeguards were successful in containing it. It spread with surprising velocity from there, and it was only a matter of time before it seized upon the vulnerable citizens of the parish.

The film introduces us to many mothers, fathers, children and city workers who fought to survive under the threat of annihilation. We hear stories of religious hysteria, deeply personal loss, desperate and futile attempts to maintain order, suspicion and chaos amongst the poorest masses, those who were brave enough to care for the sick, and the wealthiest members of the elite class who abandoned them. The ensuing societal breakdown was almost as grisly and terrifying as the disease itself.

Adorned with masterfully produced reenactments and instructive narration, the film ably portrays the rot and insanity of the period, and reconstructs the abominable conditions under which 100,000 of the city's inhabitants lived and perished.

Directed by: Rob Coldstream