The latest episode of this utterly fascinating series followed the story and life of 77 year old Bill, a Parkinson’s Disease sufferer who’d recently taken up residence in Lovat Fields.
The reason why Silverville is such compelling viewing is that we get to see – mostly – a thoroughly rounded overview of why the residents are there and a potted life history which is, often, somewhat tragic.
This could be said of last night’s encounter with Bill. At first sight and in the first few minutes, I warmed to him a great deal. His stoicism, tenacity and refusal to be cowed by his monstrous disease made him an inspirational figure, however, we then heard about Bill from his children’s point of view, and it quite suddenly became a little more difficult to unreservedly like Bill.
As the show wore on, we heard how Bill was rather a double sided coin; one side of him displayed a enormous commitment to and passion for fundraising, and in fact Bill was instrumental in acquiring a specialised Parkinson’s nurse for the Milton Keynes area. The other side of Bill’s persona coin was that his children felt abandoned by him.
He has a son and daughter, and his son Paul spoke to camera about how, when his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, Bill had left the family and prior to that, had been more an occasional father as he was away working. Not that he can be blamed for going away to work, but, as Paul said, leaving his wife and children at a time when he was needed the most was, “not the right thing to do.”
About halfway into the film, despite Bill’s initial enthusiasm for moving into Lovat Fields, he was beginning to feel isolated and alone, and the filmmaker of last night’s episode is to be commended on his subtle but poignant use of symbolism throughout. For instance, at one point, as Bill was describing feeling lonely for the first time in his life, we saw him sitting wanly outside a room where there was a private party being held. It visually summed up Bill’s feelings at that moment beautifully.
So again, I was feeling desperately sad for this proud man at that point, but when we saw him berating Paul for something that wasn’t in any way his fault, one couldn’t help but think he was being a cantankerous old devil and taking out his frustrations on his son.
Paul told us how his sister was incredulous that Paul was helping his father because he’d never been around for them, but Paul said, “He’s still my dad” and felt behoved to care for him, despite the fact that his dad behaved towards him with contempt oftentimes.
By the time the end of the programme drew nigh, and as we watched Bill fiercely railing against losing the few scraps of independence that he had left to him, again I was somewhat torn between the two sides of Bill’s character. I imagine he’s one of those people with whom it would be a joy to spend a few hours talking but a harsh nightmare to be the one trying to care for him when he so desperately doesn’t want to be cared for, regardless of how much he needs to be.
At the very end, we saw Paul and his family visiting with Bill and Bill telling Paul that he loved him. He’d been asked earlier by the filmmaker if he loved his son and he couldn’t answer, saying that he needed “time to think about that one.” It was a touching moment then when he told Paul he loved him but it became tempered by the fact that Paul couldn’t say it back, or at least, we didn’t get to hear it if he did.
I can’t blame Paul at all if he felt unable to say it back. After all, Bill himself admitted that he’s only got to know his son since he’s been ill and needed his help, so truly, Paul is to be commended for being there for his errant father; he doesn’t have to be and morally, nobody could accuse him of being wrong if he didn’t, especially when faced with the open hostility with which Bill treated him sometimes.
Overall, despite the initial admiration for Bill’s pluckiness and spirit, last night’s episode left me feeling very sad for Bill. He’s being ravaged by his illness and he’s having to sacrifice his independence, but at a time when he should have a loving family around him, he has only his reluctant but dutiful son. The sad thing is, it’s Bill’s own fault, so maybe there are some lessons for us all in Bill’s story.