Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Little films can grow if fed the right ingredients. Actress/theatre director Alison Peebles's debut feature is a prime example. Working on a small budget from a contentious storyline, softened at the centre by a smidgen of sentimentality, she puts her trust in her actors who respond magnificently.

Is this a film about euthanasia, living with Down syndrome or a selfish man's awakening to personal responsibility? Well, all at once. And yet put like that, it sounds desperately depressing.

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As a feelbad movie, Afterlife fails to deliver the coup-de-grace to jaded cinemagoers, fed up with worthy subjects, designed to make them feel uncomfortable about their freedom and comforts.

Without wanting to sound like the marketing director for Cliché City, the film is heartwarming, life enhancing and full of love. OK, it's soppy at times, but it's also single-minded in its endeavour to tackle the cruellest cut of all: what happens to those who are left behind when you die, especially when they can't look after themselves?

May (Lindsay Duncan) has terminal cancer. Her son Kenny (Kevin McKidd) is a ruthlessly ambitious journalist, who doesn't have time to notice. Roberta (Paula Sage) is his 21-year-old sister with Down syndrome, who has lived with mum all her life.

May is desperate about what will happen to Roberta. The thought of putting her into a home is anathema. "She can't look after herself, she'll pine away," she says. "Don't you understand, Kenny? I'm leaving her to you."

Of course, Kenny is too busy chasing stories, meeting deadlines, chatting up chicks to give Roberta a second thought. He'll find an institution that will take her. It's not his problem, dammit! He's stressed enough.

Avoiding a road to Hollywood conversion, in which Roberta's funny, sweet nature melts his resistance and brings out the goodness in him, Peebles and writer Andrea Gibb allow the performances to speak for themselves, which they do most eloquently.

McKidd has played the hard man many times, most notably in Small Faces, and yet he finds a humanity here that responds to Sage's warmth and humour with generosity. She is central to this film, guided and supported by Duncan's pivotal role, and is so emotionally expressive that it's difficult to know where the acting and the life join. The only wastage, in terms of secondary characters, is Kenny's long-suffering girlfriend (the ever-wondrous Shirley Henderson), who is cushioned by the script into passive compliance.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2003
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Afterlife packshot
A man goes on a personal voyage of discovery with his Down Syndrome sister.
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Director: Alison Peebles

Writer: Andrea Gibb

Starring: Lindsay Duncan, Kevin McKidd, Paula Sage, James Laurenson, Shirley Henderson, Fiona Bell, Anthony Strachan, Emma D'Inverno, Eddie Marsan, Isla Blair, Stuart Davids

Year: 2003

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2003

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