It is the future and humanity is facing a crisis of overpopulation and pollution, so the world's leaders get together and decide on a solution, and it's a drastic one. For the next thirty years, it will be illegal for any child to be born: any conception must be aborted, and should a baby be brought into this environment it and its parents will be executed by suffocation. For husband and wife Russ (Oliver Reed) and Carol (Geraldine Chaplin) this is too much to bear as the thought of having children was the hope that kept them going in this hellish world - so what now?
Well, they could always get a robot child of the sort handed out by application from the authorities, but these are a grotesque parody of infants and obviously designed by the art department to give the audience the maximum creeps. Yes, it was science fiction dystopia time again, not a new idea in the sci-fi of the nineteen-seventies and similar in its concept to the more celebrated Soylent Green - no wonder we needed Star Wars to arrive and cheer up the genre later on in the decade. For 1972, however, this British production (shot in Denmark) was the sort of glimpse into things to come you would have expected to see.
Or you would if you had caught it on its brief cinema release, or perhaps its rare showings on television, because it appeared few were interested in being soundly depressed for an hour and a half, which was the general effect of the film. For the creative force behind it, look no further than Frank De Felitta, one of the kings of the TV movie chiller who also branched out into horror novels and the odd theatrical excursion, of which this was one: very fond of placing children in peril, was Frank, in his fiction at any rate, and this was no exception as it came as little surprise to see Russ and Carol opting to ignore the law and have a baby of their own, which they are forced to hide from all and sundry.
Before we landed at that point in the plot, there were many, many sequences themed around depicting the future as a miserable place as possible, though whether this was a warning about the importance of birth control or whether it was a bunch of people who thoroughly enjoyed wallowing in predictive misery was up for debate. Whenever any of the characters venture outside they must wear gas masks as the air is thick with pollutive smoke, everyone has a psychiatrist to get them through the nightmare of their lives, and a combined nostalgia for, and state disgust about, the carefree days of the twentieth century obsesses the denizens of the forthcoming predicament.
As you can imagine, this doesn't half grind the audience down, and as you are unsure of whether there will be a happy ending Z.P.G. - which stands for Zero Population Growth, of course - is a real slog to get through. Only in the final half hour does some genuine drama erupt as Russ and Carol's best friends who they stage mundane plays with for a museum experience find out about the child they have secretly had. George (Don Gordon) and Edna (Diane Cilento) covet the baby jealously, and events are brought to a head when they threaten their friends with exposure unless they hand him over to their care. But Russ has a plan... As everyone here is meant to be muted and cowed by their barely articulated angst, even Reed isn't given the acting chances he would usually seek out, and funnily enough it's Cilento who provides the mood with a jolt as she turns hateful and then hysterical. But this is difficult to recommend, even if the actual Z.P.G. movement has never gone away; maybe one day they will look to this and say "Told you so!" Music by Jonathan Hodge.