Fuel Your Imagination

Shape History teams up with Amnesty International to highlight human rights

Olivia Colman and Adrian Lester star in the hard-hitting TV spot

Jeevan Georgina Hammond

Editorial Assistant Creativebrief


Together, Shape History and Amnesty International UK have produced a new campaign to highlight the threat to human rights in the UK. Imitating a trailer for a drama series, the 2 minute hero video explores just some of the human rights that are currently being eroded in the UK.

The film, titled ‘Before Our Eyes’, stars Olivia Colman and Adrian Lester. The two award-winning actors take part in a narrative which conveys many people’s lived experiences. Namely, the film portrays a deterioration in access to safe housing, healthcare, and an adequate standard of living. As it points out at the end, ‘these are basic human rights’.

Working on the premise that some viewers may think of human rights violations as a far off issue, the campaign sets out to show the UK audience that they are actually in the country they live in. These violations are happening right ‘Before Our Eyes’.

(Credit: Shape History)

The  first shot of the campaign shows a woman running, panicked, to Mary’s (Olivia Colman) house. It transpires that this same woman has lost her baby due to unsafe temporary housing. She has come to Mary for help, given her legal experience.

Reading a letter, she discovers that the local council are denying responsibility for their part in the baby’s death. As such, Mary agrees to take the case on and take the local council to court.

While exploring the case, the video shows the lead up to the baby’s untimely death. This begins with the inadequate temporary housing situation given to the family. A wall covered in mould is clearly a threat to the child’s health.

A flashback shows the mother calling Adrian Lester’s character, an employee of the local council, for help. He tells her that she is on a housing waiting list and nothing can be done in the meantime.

Back to the present day, Mary has a conversation with a doctor, where he confirms that these living situations are making children ill. Lester’s character acknowledges that these children and experiences like this will continue to be invisible until society cares about them. In court, the two women seek justice. As the mother explains to the judge: “I tried to do everything right”, but “it wasn’t enough”.

For the last 30 seconds, the video turns to non-fiction. With Colman breaking character to looks directly into the camera to reveal: “This isn’t drama. This is real life”.

Data then flashes up telling audiences that ‘at least 34 homeless children have died in temporary accommodation between the 1st of April 2019 and the 31st of March 2022. Lester concludes: “Human rights in the UK are under threat. It’s time to tune in”.

Audiences might already be familiar with the concept of human rights stories, as many are presented in popular TV dramas. For instance, Happy Valley explored human trafficking, Whitechapel presented immigrant and workers’ rights, and Broadchurch demonstrated the right to a fair trial.

However, according to Shape History, many people are not connecting these dramatised stories to their real life counterparts. As such, the campaign put together a trailer that mirrors a British TV drama, only to reveal at the end that this isn’t fiction.

Whilst highlighting the issue at hand, the ad also underlines  the role that public figures can have in amplifying a vital message. It uses the actors’ famous skill sets to really engage audiences in the cause. As Zoë Dawson, Creative Lead at Shape History, explained: “Using these familiar faces creatively can make people pay attention to human rights abuses in the UK."

She continued: "Having the opportunity to work with household talent was too good to waste on delivering another charity message in the expected format”. With these key players, Shape History and Amnesty subverted expectations of typical charity adverts, hoping to garner more engagement from audiences.

Before Our Eyes BTS 4 _ Shape History x Amnesty International UK.JPG
Before Our Eyes BTS 2 _ Shape History x Amnesty International UK.JPG

Sharing the campaign’s intended outcome, Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said: “We hope the film will be a catalyst for people across the UK to join the fight for rights and say that safe housing, enough healthy food, good and timely healthcare aren’t ‘nice to-haves’ - these are basic human rights which we expect our own Government to protect”.

He poignantly stated that “The need to act on human rights violations here in the UK is terrifyingly urgent. The brutal real-life suffering that people are facing right here and right now is something none of us should ignore and it will continue to get worse unless we as a country open our eyes and act”.

The effective delivery of this message was also assisted by talent behind the monitors. Catherine Moorshead, who has worked on Doctor Who and Downton Abbey, directed the film. Tat Radcliffe, credited on Queen and Slim, Pride, and Matilda, was Director of Photography. Pearl & Dean have partnered with the campaign to release the hero video in UK cinemas. It will also be promoted on social media.

Human rights violations is an issue that affects all of us. The ‘Before Our Eyes’ campaign shines a light on these injustices. It demonstrates that these issues are occuring right on our doorstep. The endeavour seeks to encourage the safeguarding of human rights in the UK, by asking for help from the general public and those in power. By bringing the topic to the audience's attention, in a hard-hitting and engaging way, the campaign hopes to affect real change.

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