You Have Been Watching…AfterLife

It’s been a very bookish summer for Scots Whay Hae!, whether reviewing, editing or podcasting about them. Something had to give, and that has been the ‘You Have Been Watching…’ columns, which have been few and far between. But as the nights fair draw in, the winter movie schedule is looking very healthy indeed for new films, and interesting DVD releases.

This month alone sees Jon S. Baird’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth, Dexter Fletcher directs the Proclaimer’s musical, Sunshine on Leith, and there’s a release for Paul Wright’s For Those In Peril. Two of Scotland’s finest directors Kevin Macdonald and David Mackenzie have new films (the latter’s Starred Up has Ben Mendelsohn. Ya dancer!), and for gorehounds there is the DVD release of Sawney: Flesh of Man, with David Hayman as the Highland cannibal Sawney Beane. There is even yet another cut of The Wicker Man released, although I think that particular film has had enough coverage on these pages.

So, lots and lots to see and review, but in the meantime I want to point you in the direction of a wee, unexpected, gem of a movie; a film which, if it doesn’t move you, I would check for a pulse. The film is 2003’s AfterLife, and if you don’t believe me that it is worth seeing, then take the word of Giorgio Armani (yes, that one. At least I think so) who called the film “Inspirational”, after reviewing it for the Sunday Telegraph. Ain’t life peculiar?

Most things about AfterLife are unexceptional. The set up and script, and even the setting, are nothing to marvel at, but what stops this film from being forgettable (although it seems most people have) is the cast, who are on great form without exception. Kevin McKidd is Kenny Brogan, a young man trying get a break in the less than morally nourishing world of print journalism. When we meet him he is following up a possible case of assisted suicide/murder, depending on which paper you prefer. To show how corrupted he has become he sleeps with a possible rival, and then forgets to phone his mother. What a c…cad.

Said mother, May Brogan, is played by Lindsay Duncan and I had forgotten just what a wonderful screen presence she is. For me she will always be Barbara from Alan Bleasdale’s G.B.H., but here she plays against type as a world weary single mother, who’s health is obviously failing. She no longer worries about Kenny, he’s big enough to deal with his own mistakes. May’s world is her daughter Roberta, who is a young adult with Down’s Syndrome.

Roberta is played by Paula Sage, and her performance is the heart of the movie. Her relationship with May is wonderful, believable and ultimately heartbreaking. What could have been a role which was a token nod to disability is one which is full of character as Sage is at times spiky (with her teen attitude shining through), angry, thoughtful, petulant, loving, funny, honest, yet devious when she wants to be. Roberta is underestimated by almost everyone, and yet she is the one who realises what’s unfolding before any one else. The scenes between Roberta and Kenny, the brother who has come back into her life obviously against his will, are simultaneously funny and moving as she plays him like a fiddle, making him face his own fears and prejudices, and asking the audience to do the same.

There is terrific support from Shirley Henderson as Kenny’s long suffering girlfriend, Eddie Marsan as a morally bankrupt journo, Ilsa Blair as Dr Jackson and James Laurenson as Professor Wilkinshaw, a very understated and appealing performance. But AfterLife is a family drama, and it is within the family dynamic that the real drama is found. If it had been made for TV I think it would have been well thought of and more fondly remembered than it obviously is, but what makes it special is that it has at its centre a portrayal of someone whose disability is not what defines them, even when many of those around her do just that.

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