Much Ado About Dying

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer and Director: Simon Chambers

Made without funding, Simon Chambers’ Much Ado About Dying is a wonder: you just can’t look away. While in Delhi planning a documentary on the Asian car industry, he receives the first phone call. His elderly uncle David in London announces, “I think I may be dying,” and in peremptory fashion, demands Simon return to look after him.

We feel every twinge of Simon’s pain and guilt. It’s not as if he’d ever been close to David. Now he finds the nightmare of a house which David has inhabited for 40 years. As a hoarder, he’s in a class of his own. He has never thrown anything away, stockpiling old cans of soup, including all the empties and a collection of lethal old electric fires. He covers electric sockets with toothpaste believing the mint flavour will deter mice. Worse still, he has taken to wandering around naked, peeing in any old receptable. But he’s adept at seeing off social services and has no intention of moving to a care home.

“It became clear,” Simon comments drily, “that David had no interest in dying.”

Early on, Simon picks up a videorecorder. There’s nothing else to do. But the thing is, the old boy is full of life. An actor, he continues to speak in beautifully enunciated tones, most often quoting Shakespeare. The analogy between David and King Lear is both painfully obvious and somehow moving. The inarticulate howl we hear at the beginning turns out to be David, in a wrenching performance from his bed of Lear’s lines on the death of Cordelia. Simon is there to capture David’s eloquent gestures and facial expressions. But he’s mercurial. Throughout the film, happily breaking into song or declaring rapturously, “This is such a good day.”

At the same time, he is maddeningly demanding, forever arguing the toss. There is no word of thanks for Simon who in one scene wearily plods off to buy wall clocks. David has decided he needs three: “Four is OTT.” He doesn’t like bossy people, he says without irony

He refuses to wear the incontinence pads he’s given, using some to plug holes in the floor, while another serves as a tea cosy. We know Simon is soon at his wits’ end, but as viewers we can’t help marvelling at the sheer creative energy of David’s revolt against convention. But there are more shocks in store. Simon discovers £25,000 has gone missing from David’s bank account, a suspected gift to an unscrupulous carer, Rodrigo, whom David clearly adores. David only came out at 62. He is now in his mid 80s.

Two years in, you can’t believe anything else can go wrong. But it does. David has spells in hospital, but he hasn’t got dementia – there’s no reason to keep him in. In fact he positively thrives on the attention and the regular meals. Simon realises David is fundamentally lonely and touchingly, admits to being so himself. “I think I was much better at friendships,” he says sadly.

More time passes. David experiences moments of despair. “I am a weak and despised old man,” he quotes. Simon privately begins to see himself as Lear’s Fool.

But the end, when it comes, is made by Simon’s tactful and honest filming into something both graceful and generous.

MuchAdoAboutDyingis produced by Soilsiu Films and released in UK cinemas from 3 May by Cosmic Cat.

riveting, maddening, honest

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