Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Franny Armstrong.

This fascinating documentary records the longest civil trial in England’s legal history – a David and Goliath like struggle between the multinational McDonalds corporation and two environmental activists who had made some damaging statements about the company.

Dave Marsh and Helen Steel were members of an environmental group. In the early ’90’s they published a pamphlet entitled What’s Wrong With McDonalds, in which they alleged that the giant burger firm used misleading advertising tactics, exploited children and their young workers, and condoned cruelty to animals. McDonalds spends some $5 billion a year on advertising, and its golden arches are a more recognisable symbol than the Christian cross. The company is also notoriously litigious, and quick to sue anyone who criticises it – as the film demonstrates with a list of companies and celebrities who have been forced to retract statements in the face of threatened legal action. But Marsh and Steel were a pair of battlers who had nothing to lose, and stood firm.

McDonalds ultimately spent some $50 million in pursuing the case, while Steel and Marsh defended themselves on money raised through donations from supporters. But they scored some major victories against their more polished and highly trained legal adversaries. The pair eventually scored a comprehensive moral victory over McDonalds as the judge decided that some of their allegations were true. But the whole case itself was something of a public relations disaster for McDonalds, as it thrust the pair and their allegations into newspaper headlines around the world. A web site was even set up to further broadcast the details of the trial.

This documentary following the lengthy trial and its impact has been put together by Franny Armstrong, a novice film maker with no experience, but plenty of passion. Noted English director Ken Loach, a champion of the working classes, helped direct the dramatic recreations of the court scenes, and one wonders how much input he had into shaping the overall structure of this intriguing 55 minute doco. McLibel is fascinating stuff, and Armstrong and co certainly cram a fair bit of information into the brief running time. Armstrong is aware of the absurdity of the case, and consequently the film is full of a sly humour, most of it at McDonalds expense.

But the film is not without its flaws, many of them due to the restrictions of working within an extremely low budget. Objectivity seems to have completely gone out the window, although, to be fair, McDonalds management was approached to participate in the filming process but declined. Obviously they figured they’d already been burned enough the first time around!

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