Over the past few years ITV have brought us a number of documentaries that have gone behind the bars of some of the country’s most notorious prisons. They continue that theme tonight with another programme that attempts to debunk the myths behind one of Britain’s most famous institutions; Broadmoor. But, as Olivia Lichtenstein’s film often points out, Broadmoor isn’t a prison but rather an NHS hospital that houses some of the UK’s most violent criminals. Getting behind the gates of Broadmoor hasn’t been an easy feat and, as we’re told early on, it’s taken five years of negotiation to get the hospital on side. But I was personally disappointed in what the programme had to offer primarily as it was incredibly fragmented and didn’t flow in the way a lot of the channel’s prison documentaries have done.
One of the elements of the documentary that I struggled with was the fact that, on the insistence of the hospital, all of the patient’s faces had been blurred. Whilst I understand the reasoning behind this, it made it harder to get to know the individuals we were meeting, especially when the programme focused on them multiple times. Other information, pertaining to the crimes the men had committed, was held back too and therefore I sometimes struggled to understand the exact reasons for them being in Broadmoor. The unprecedented access at least allowed Liechtenstein and her team the chance to interview some of the men to discover how they cope on a daily basis. For example Alex, who had done numerous terrible things, had auditory hallucinations meaning that he was often tempted into committing violent acts by the voices in his head. Alex told an incredibly interesting story about cutting up a mango and being compelled by the voices to use the knife to stab the other people in the room. The fact that he resisted the temptation made him physically shake but he saw this as somewhat of a breakthrough. The documentary also introduced us to several colourful characters including Declan; a man who’d struggled with his homosexuality but was now was comfortable in his own skin and had aspirations of being a full-time Drag Queen.
But, like a lot of these documentaries, the main focus appeared to be attempting to capture the violence of the institution on camera. This was evident in the final scene, which didn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the episode, in which the staff members struggled to cajole a reluctant patient off the yard. Although we saw much of the incident from the point-of-view of the staff members it was clear that this man was in an agitated state. Even though they eventually got him safely back into the ward, nurse Mo got caught in the crossfire and he talked about how violence was part of the daily struggle at Broadmoor. Whilst I did enjoy hearing from the staff about their experiences, this violent incident was awkwardly inserted into the final part of the episode and spoilt the overall flow of the narrative.
A better example of the way that some patients can act out was presented in the story of Lenny, who was initially quite calm when the cameras caught him exhibiting his artwork. But, as the cameras continued to follow him, he became more manic and hyperactive and eventually snapped. I felt that this example of violence was more effective as Lenny was a character we’d already got to know prior to his outburst. There was also more context added to Lenny’s behaviour when we learnt that he had a twisted perception of reality and believed that he was involved in a court case against the hospital. Later on in the documentary, Lenny attempted to apologise for his earlier actions and the cameras caught up with him in the hospital’s seclusion area. Lenny’s story as a whole was an interesting one and was a perfect example of why men like him end up in Broadmoor.
One of the amazing things that the documentary taught me about Broadmoor was the fact that it attempts to allow its patients to live a normal life. Those patients who have been assessed as low-risk are encouraged to work within the walls of Broadmoor, creating artwork which will then be sold to the public. These patients then earn 80p an hour for their work which they can use in the institution’s on-site shop. One of my favourite scenes of the entire documentary was footage from the shop in which one of the patients started to get agitated after he couldn’t locate the Wine Gums. The hospital’s work programme is presented as somewhat of an incentive for patients as a way of encouraging them not to act out. The aforementioned Alex is one of the patients hoping to be assessed as a low-risk patient which in turn would mean that he’d get to work. Unfortunately, Alex continued to attempt to harm himself and it appeared as if he’d have to wait a while until he’d get his wish.
I personally thought that documentary was at its strongest when focusing on the more mundane elements of the institution and how it helps to better its patients. Though I understand the need for the inclusion of violence in the documentary, I’d much rather be shocked by the patient’s back stories than see one of them attempt to attack the staff members. Another aspect about the documentary I enjoyed as a whole was the way in which it praised the staff members and their attempts to rehabilitate the patients. By the end of the episode I’d developed a huge amount of respect for these men and women who basically put themselves at risk by dealing with some of the country’s most violent offenders.
Ultimately, while not ITV’s best institution-based documentary, Broadmoor did have its moments and I really enjoyed getting to know the patients as well as witnessing the ways in which the hospital tries to prepare them for the outside world. However, at times I found the programme quite hard to follow, due to the fact that Liechtenstein didn’t focus on any one patient for too long. The fact that the men’s faces were blurred made it harder to connect with them and the focus on the more violent aspects of the institution felt incredibly forced. As a result I would say that the production team had somewhat squandered the use of their unprecedented access and I for one expected more from a channel that has given us some really powerful documentaries in the past.
What did you think to Broadmoor? Did you feel that the production team could have done more?
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