Escaping (apocalyptic) Birmingham in Zomboat!

Zomboat! (ITV2) is one of the few television dramas of recent years that is both set and filmed in Birmingham. As a zombie apocalypse hits the second city, sisters Jo and Kat endeavour to flee the undead hordes by commandeering a narrowboat. They are unexpectedly joined on the canals by Londoners Sunny and Amar, who have been in Birmingham for a stag weekend, and a comedy infused with mild peril, a dash of gore and questionable accents ensues. I actually really enjoyed Zomboat!, not least because it’s great seeing Brum play itself on TV. With my PhD hat on, however, I was nonetheless slightly aggrieved that in some ways the series feeds into increasingly familiar narrative tropes that the Midlands is a region from which to escape.

ZOMBOATtitlessignpostThe animated title sequence of Zomboat! opens with an old-fashioned signpost, one arm pointing right to Birmingham, the other left to London. I was amused by the fact that ‘Birmingham’ is stamped with a red right hand, though this is probably due to PhD-me associating everything with Peaky Blinders, rather than the more likely explanation that a blood-stained zombie stumbled into it. This arm of the signpost, however, is visible for barely a second (most of it is gone within 25 frames, in fact – I counted) before a zoom into ‘London’, quite literally signposting the central narrative of the series to escape Birmingham in favour of the capital. This is further compounded by a sign in what is ostensibly New Street station, that reads ‘Escaping The City?’ just after Sunny has uttered his first ‘get me out of this town’.

Birmingham’s architecture was praised for being ‘apocalyptic’ in a Q&A I attended with the producer and cast of Zomboat!, an oddly backhanded compliment that seems all the stranger given that there are some lovely shots of the canals throughout the series that arguably showcase the city in a positive light. Besides, if streets are emptied and smoke plumes added, I think almost any town or city can be made to look apocalyptic on screen, regardless of building styles.

Now, I know that the four main characters have ample reason to leave Birmingham due to the shuffling, staring, former humans that pursue those who aren’t yet infected, but Sunny in particular seems to have it in for the city; even before he’s had his first zombie encounter. Kat’s reasoning behind going to London rather than the countryside also seems questionable, even if it is argued that they’ll be safe on an island in the Thames as ‘zombies can’t swim’. Although I appreciated Zomboat! for placing Brum at the heart of an unfolding comedy-drama, I can’t help wondering what the likelihood would have been, had the apocalypse started in Camden rather than Gas Street, of the narrative entailing a mirrored escape all the way to the Midlands?

Escaping Birmingham in Zomboat from Jemma Saunders on Vimeo.

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