Grenfell: The Untold Story, Channel 4, Review: A Distressing Reminder Of One Of Britain’s Greatest Tragedies

Various documentaries over recent weeks have brought us 20th-anniverary footage of New York’s World Trade Centre on fire, but a towering inferno much closer to home was examined in Channel 4’s Grenfell: The Untold Story.


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Screening just as the public (hitherto barred because of Covid) are finally able to give evidence to the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry, director James Newton’s documentary served as a powerful opening statement.

Newton was able to use footage shot by Constantine Gras, a community artist hired by Grenfell’s landlords, the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), to make a film about the block’s refurbishment two years before it went up in flames in June 2017.

The envisaged film may have constituted “art-washing”, as Gras himself ruefully admitted, but his footage provided an invaluable record of the tenants’ growing fears and frustrations – meetings with Labour councillors, Kensington’s Conservative MP and representatives from TMO. “We were fighting for our lives,” as one tenant later put it. “But we didn’t know that yet.”

Gras had also filmed the likes of ebullient eight-year-old Mehdi, one of the 18 children among the 72 people killed.

Mehdi was seen adding his own drawings to the giant mural that Gras was masterminding – and to be told that this lively, imaginative youngster was among the victims brought home the horror of the disaster.

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There was also a recording of a phone conversation between tenant Marcio and the emergency services as he battled down the smoke-filled stairwell with his two daughters and pregnant wife (the baby was subsequently lost). It was one of the film’s most distressingly vivid sequences.

If terrorism did it for the Twin Towers, Grenfell was the victim of complacency, seeming contempt for the residents and cost-cutting that, we were told, saw plans for fire-resistant cladding ditched to save £293,368. That’s £4,074 for each life lost.

No one has yet to take responsibility, and the film ended with the horrifying fact that, four years on, thousands are still living in high rises using the same cladding.

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Grenfell: The Untold Story, Channel 4, review: A distressing reminder of one of Britain’s greatest tragedies
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