Film

Ben Wheatley: "London will become a dead museum"

Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is set in the 1970s, but the director says the subject of happiness and housing is even more relevant now

Do we all live in a metaphorical high-rise?

Yeah, definitely. The building could represent a building, or a man, woman, town or country. It could represent all things fighting within the personality of one person or a country or the world. Within your own mind there are many different agendas that you aren’t necessarily in total control of consciously.

Margaret Thatcher makes a cameo appearance of sorts in the film [which stars Tom Hiddleston, pictured above]. Is that to show that the destruction in this single building is about to spread?

There are two sides of the Thatcher story – there’s also the champagne, cocaine, property booms and people getting incredibly rich. At the same time as there’s collapse, there’s rise. There’s greed but also the dismantling of social services – stand on your own two feet while making it easier for the rich to get richer. That anybody has any confidence in anything at all, after the near total global collapse of the banks only a few years ago and the fact that nothing has been done to sort it out, boggles my mind.

Does government have the same power and influence as it did?

We’re almost in a point of post-politics, Trump particularly at the moment, but our own politicians say stuff and nobody says anything about it or if they do it makes no difference. The moment it moved into this world of not mattering for me was after a million people marched against the war. If you have that many people mobilised against the political system and the political system shrugs… then there is no more politics.

The high-rise tower block of the film is big, bold and brutalist like many post-war developments. Once upon a time they must have personified hope for a better standard of living. Now they represent something else…

The ‘streets in the sky’ stuff was about the destruction of the slums to build new housing for people coming back from the war. But they destroyed the communities they were trying to save. When they were built they were seen with massive optimism, when they failed everyone blamed the buildings.

Many of these buildings are now being demolished but are they being replaced by anything better?

Some are being knocked down because they weren’t brilliantly well built. A lot of tower blocks weren’t that nice to live in. But it’s gone too far the other way. A lot of beautiful brutalist buildings have been caught in the crossfire. They knocked down a lot of Victorian buildings after the war because they were seen as depressing, now everyone loves them. In 20 years everyone will turn around going, “Oh shit, we knocked down all those brilliant brutalist buildings!” I’m not sure these things are necessarily right or wrong. It’s just fashion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYmY2tBYins

As housing prices continue to spiral, is your film a warning about the potential human cost of poor living conditions?

I haven’t approached this film from a construction and architectural position… But London seems to be in a very strange situation at the moment. Even people who are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds can’t afford a flat. The city will end up being a dead museum if we’re not careful. Money just kills it.

And what will be the consequences?

They need places for people to be creative to make things trendy in the first place so people want to live there. If they get rid of people who do that and are left with a load of ‘bankers’ then that’s what you’ll get – the dead world of cash. It’s a bit like when people buy art and then stick it in vaults. It’s becomes abstract – even if it’s abstract art – but it becomes more abstract so you can’t even see it. What is art if you can’t see it? It just becomes a commodity. And if they commoditise property so it stays as weird empty boxes that are investments… The city becomes an abstraction.

High-Rise is in cinemas from March 18

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