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The Oil Machine

average rating is 4 out of 5


Alasdair MacRae


Posted on:

Oct 28, 2022

Film Reviews
The Oil Machine
Directed by:
Emma Davie
Written by:
Emma Davie
Holly Gillibrand, James Marriott, Jake Molloy

In the run-up to COP27, as the UK government swagger from environmental inaction to actively counterintuitive policies, and the protests from Just Stop Oil campaigners begin to grab headlines, Emma Davie’s documentary takes North Sea drilling as a focus study to chronicle Britain’s history with oil, and assess presently what needs to change to prevent further escalation of the current climate crisis.


Tracing the line from the first rigs in the North Sea to the 6 litres of oil it takes to produce an iPhone, Davie establishes the growth and modernity brought with the oil industry, and how, despite its brief history, we are led to believe that is an immovable fixture in 21st-century society. Oil’s position as one of the foundations of the finance market and the abundance of plastics used in our daily lives are highlighted as the most significant barriers preventing the enactment of meaningful change.


Largely constructed from archive footage and talking head interviews, The Oil Machine appears to take a more informative than emotional approach (although that isn’t to say that you won’t leave the cinema boiling with rage). University professors, climate lawyers, and respected authors break down the complexities of Britain’s history with oil and who currently has a vested interest in it. Teenage activists walk the Scottish streets that could be underwater by the time they are the same age as some of the other commentators. And, in perhaps the most clever twist, investment bankers, BP representatives, and even the CEO of Oil and Gas UK are offered a sort of ‘right of reply’, an act which makes their patronising waffle and corporate double-speak painfully transparent.


Rather than focus on the well-known consequences of inaction, director Emma Davie takes a keener approach with The Oil Machine, asking who and what is standing in the way of necessary action. An informative work that enforces just how difficult it will be to cut Britain’s dependency on oil, particularly when the people in control are those most resistant to change.

About the Film Critic
Alasdair MacRae
Alasdair MacRae
Theatrical Release, Documentary
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