This morning, I read a review of this drama as written by Andrew Billen in The Times Online, and with disbelief, I read this… “Yet to have been truly effective, either as drama of propaganda, it should have moved the viewer, and it didn’t me, or not very much.”
I’m assuming he meant “… as drama or propaganda” but typo aside, I can only assume Mr Billen is an automaton or an opponent of the right to choose to die. How anyone can have failed to have been moved by either the real story or this sensitive but faithful reconstruction of it is beyond me…
Julie Walters was outstanding, as were the rest of the cast in their combined depiction of the traumatic last few months in the life of this remarkable lady and her loving family.
The Turner family’s selfless and brave decision to allow cameras to follow them – as was their mother’s wish – during Anne’s illness and then as she died in Zurich has doubtless made them vulnerable to critics and the self-righteous opinions of those who oppose assisted suicide.
Well, I for one would like to offer them my sincere thanks for sharing their story in order to raise public awareness of the antiquated and cruel laws in this country that forbid assisted suicide. It’s people like Anne and her family and Craig Ewart and his family who forward the cause of dying with dignity and I applaud them for it.
As to the drama itself, it was incredibly moving and graphically portrayed how destructive an illness like PSP is. Julie Walters crafted her depiction of Dr Turner beautifully as she reenacted her progression from a GP with a full life – albeit one lived in the shadow of her husband’s terminal illness and the demands that made upon her – to a woman who, so ravaged by her illness, could do little for herself.
The ever fabulous Harriet Walter played the part of Anne’s friend Claire whose own conviction that suicide is immoral and unforgivable was powerfully portrayed by Harriet. In one of the most moving scenes of the film, Harriet as Claire berated Anne for her attempt at suicide – she took prescription drugs and tried to suffocate herself at home – which made me both sad and angry.
Sad because at a time when Anne needed every friend she could get, one of her oldest friends turned her back on her because she didn’t agree with what Anne did. How arrogant of Claire to deliberately estrange herself from Anne when she could have no idea of the turmoil and horror that had beset this brave woman.
From a position of imperious good health, Claire saw fit to admonish Anne for her suicide attempt and to emotionally blackmail her by accusing Anne of selfishness and of hurting her children. Perhaps Claire should have waited until Anne was on the ground – which she was frequently from sudden onset paralysis – and then given her a good kicking too.
However, by including this scene in the film, the traumatic argument between the two highlighted exactly why this issue needs to be debated and why the attitude of people opposed to assisted suicide needs to be changed. How can any person who has not experienced for themselves the hideous prison of a failing body have the right to critisise the decisions of those who have?
Anybody seeing the frightening effects of restricted breathing, the inability to swallow, the falls, the incontinence and the loss of dignity that this and many other incurable diseases visits upon the sufferer surely couldn’t argue from any rational viewpoint that that person doesn’t have the right to free themselves of a body that has so savagely turned against them?
As I wrote in my review of the recent documentary, Right To Die, if Dr Turner or Craig Ewart – or any of the dozens of Britons who’ve chosen to end their lives at Dignitas – had been a dog or cat, they would have been ‘put to sleep’. Yet the kindness we afford helpless animals is denied us humans in our own country.
Julie Walters deserves an award of some kind for this role; as an actress, her portrayals of characters through the years have made me laugh and cry but I believe this was her most powerful performance yet. It made me both laugh and cry as she played out the last months of Anne’s life. The horror of the incontinence as she choked in the tea room was shocking. The bursts of rage, uncontrolled laughter or tears, the full spectrum of the symptoms of PSP were depicted and her attempt at suicide by overdose and suffocation was truly horrifying.
If you missed it, and especially if you are a person who believes nobody should have the right to terminate their own lives, then please take the time to watch it on BBC iPlayer. And if you are opposed to assisted suicide, while watching, ask yourself how you might feel if you were Anne Turner.
Would you – as she did – wish to die at a time of your choosing, before the full horrors of an incurable disease meant that you couldn’t breathe, swallow or even blink and were doubly incontinent and fully dependent upon others for everything?
Or would you stoically choose to suffer those horrible symptoms and force those who love you to watch as you die slowly in pain? Which is the real crime? I guess we all must decide that for ourselves but I know which I believe to be the true offense.