The Great Plague

2001, History  -   10 Comments
Storyline

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
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8.02
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Ratings: 8.02/10from 55 users.

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10 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Janoon

    Interesting that the killing of animals like cats and dogs was probably pivotal to the whole situation. Who knew. That is the first time I'd heard that.

  2. Charles

    @mark gaboury
    "a short-haired feminist" ??? A typical comment from an insecure, short-haired rapist.

  3. Amresh

    This documentary depicts a very good picture of London's slums where the poor lived. The vision is narrow but focused to the real point of the situation. Nice work!

  4. Rex H.

    Excellent documentary. I’m always a little skeptical about dramatised docus, but this one was extremely well done. For follow up reading on the plague, Walter J Bell’s “The Great Plague in London”, first published in 1924, revised in 1951 and an abridged edition in 2001 based on the revised edition, is a must-read. Bell also wrote “The Great Fire of London in 1666” the city’s second catastrophe in two years. And someone who witnessed both was Samuel Pepys, who recorded the events in his diaries, also worth reading. And Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” is also valuable.

  5. mark gaboury

    Interesting documentary. And a lot of work to do. But I have a few concerns. (1) Many preachers stayed behind and did great work. A versed historian would know that, how important it is, and would have included it. (2) The filth is overdone. I have seen many sketches of the dwellings in London at the time; they were not mansions, but not sewers either. (3) I don't like being lectured to about the plague by a short-haired feminist from a pulpit, especially considering that women preachers were not tolerated in that century. (4) Another point is lost because of the simulated sex scene. The best insight is the morality of the people: far above what London citizens exhibit now.

    1. M. Kerr

      Your comments are most interesting and I agree with you, mostly. I have seen unbelievable filth. People will live in incredibly horrible conditions. I had similar thoughts, on the other matters, but could not put into words. You did that nicely. Well done film, nonetheless.

  6. francisa

    What an amazing documentary and lesson of history. Deeply thankful.

  7. Elle

    How could people live like this? I would have run to the wilderness and safety of nature before enduring this filth. It just doesn't make sense to me.

  8. Wes

    A most disturbing doc; I had a lot of trouble getting through it in one go. Kudos to the producers for not mincing the facts. Absolutely eye-opening, and well worth the discomfort! I agree with Al (above); it was a surprise to learn about the connection between the elimination of dogs & cats and the spread of the plague.

  9. Al

    Interesting that the killing of animals like cats and dogs was probably pivotal to the whole situation. Who knew. That is the first time I'd heard that.
    Thanx Al