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David Attenborough: A life on our planet

Peter Malone MSC  |  27 September 2020

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET,  US, 2020. Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes, Keith Scholey.  83 minutes.  Rated G.

David Attenborough is acknowledged the world over as a key consciousness-raiser about life on our planet, on the significance of biodiversity, on the threats to nature in the 21st-century.

He describes this documentary, encompassing his whole life and mission, as his witness statement. He is now 94. And so the film could rightly be called his last will and testament – his bequeathing to his vast audiences an enthusiasm for mission, to contribute to and work for a better life on our planet.

The David Attenborough we see during this film is not just the venerable octogenarian from recent television programs, now in his 90s. Many sequences from his past have been incorporated here, the enthusiastic explorer setting out in the 1950s, the intrepid visitor to every part of the planet, the powerful yet inviting presence on our television screens.

However, it does offer something of a shock as the film opens when we see the explorer wandering through the remnants of Chernobyl. Here was destruction, poor management, human error and the abandoning of the city. Here was a touch of earth apocalypse at the end of the 20th century. But it turns out that this is a shrewd opening because this is where David Attenborough all but chooses to end his story – back at Chernobyl, not walking through ruined buildings, but showing the extraordinary natural growth that has occurred since the 1980s, the range of trees and foliage, animals returning to the site, nature regenerating.

Throughout the film there is a chart, indicating world populations from the 1930s to the present, the percentage of carbon in the air, the continually diminishing statistic about wilderness remaining in the world. There are sombre sequences of rainforest clearing, especially in Borneo, and the substitution of palm oil. But David Attenborough, despite the losses he has experienced over 60 or more years, is still a man of hope. And, in that vein, he invites us to relive with him some of his exciting experiences, his charmed experiences, showing as beautiful visuals on land, on sea, in the sea, in the air, the wonders of biodiversity on and in our planet.

David Attenborough is a man of moral stature, a celebrity that the world has welcomed over many years, a man who has invited a world audience to share his passion – and, in this witness statement, in this will and testimony, he invites us to continue to share and promote his passion into the future.

Peter Malone MSC is an associate of Jesuit Media

Special Limited Screenings from 28 September –  


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