A Tragicomic Postcard from the Edge
Robert Hanks rhanks@independentcouk, The Independent (London, England)
Last Night's TV
POPPY SHAKESPEARE CHANNEL 4
MARTY FELDMAN - SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION BBC1
Mental illness has been the subject of quite a few good novels but not many films, or at least not many that I can think of offhand. Perhaps that's partly because the whole business of writing and reading a novel is not that far from a kind of mental illness: isolation, self-involvement, paying attention to the voices in your head are part of the package. Films, on the other hand, are an inherently gregarious, extrovert business: you won't do well if you can't relate easily to other people. So films tend to go for a flamboyant, entertaining, even cute version of mental illness that doesn't have a great deal to with how most people experience it.
Poppy Shakespeare at least came to the screen with a veneer of authority, being based on the much-praised novel by Clare Allan, who has spent much of her life as a psychiatric patient. The action was set in the Dorothy Fish Day Hospital in north London, a place where patients - "dribblers" - arrived dutifully to swallow their medication and spend the day being bored. For most, the main aim was not to be discharged into the community - this included the narrator, N (played by Anna Maxwell Martin), a pallid, untidy woman, forever shrinking self-effacingly into the collar of her anorak. The tedium was broken by the arrival of Poppy (Naomie Harris), glamorous in leopard-skin coat and precariously high heels, and defiantly sane. She'd been referred after some alarming answers to a job- centre questionnaire, and wanted to get discharged so that she could look after her daughter. N, smitten, became Poppy's mentor in the ways of the hospital, and tried to help her appeal against her diagnosis. But it turned out that you only qualify for "mad money" to pay for the appeal if you admit that you're ill. Soon, Poppy was blending in with the regulars, shuffling around in an old parka, pulling out her own hair, even pouring boiling water on her arms. Meanwhile, N was smartening up, putting on lipstick and wearing leopard-skin herself. Soon, she was facing the horrifying prospect of being discharged, while Poppy had been dragged ever deeper into the mental-health system's coils.
I was going to write that the casting of Maxwell Martin was inspired, but I suspect that she was the obvious choice: who else has such spikiness and vulnerability, such old eyes in a young face? And Harris was good, if not as arresting, as Poppy. They had excellent support, particularly from Jonathan Cullen and Tessa Peake- Jones as the ward doctors, full of bright, …
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Publication information: Article title: A Tragicomic Postcard from the Edge. Contributors: Robert Hanks rhanks@independentcouk - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: April 1, 2008. Page number: 22. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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