Anthony Hopkins and Oliva Coleman excel in The Father, (2020) a film about dementia

Dave Kellaway reviews 'The Father' in the second part of his cultural highlights of the week.


Many of us today who have ageing or frail relatives will have direct experience of senile dementia. This film brilliantly manages to put you inside the body of somebody with this condition – an illness which a large proportion of us will inevitably suffer from as we near death It does this by dramatically re-creating scenes that appear when you first see them as part of the reality in the film that we have been presented with before. However they are in fact perceptions that are just as real in the mind of the ageing father. He is interpreted wonderfully by Anthony Hopkins, the great Welsh actor of Hannibal Lector fame (Silence of the Lambs). So for example he ‘sees’ his other daughter (who is deceased) helping him or his son-in-law moaning about the burden he has become. Two actors/actresses are used to present this and the editing makes this work seamlessly once you get used to it.

Many of the issues of the social care debate are raised in the film but mainly from the viewpoint of the father himself:

  • the trauma of having to abandon the home you have lived in for so long,
  • the stubborn refusal to see that you do require outside carers,
  • continual verbal repetition
  • often the way dementia strips away the normal way you relate to loved ones –  suppressed feelings of love or animosity come to the surface and can be brutal.

I remember being shocked at hearing my mum swearing at quite obscenely at a carer.  Relationships are put under strain by the lack of external support and its poor quality. In the film the family are quite comfortable but failure of the social care system also affects them. Losing your physical reference points by going into a residential home in turn increases the loss of your mental bearings This is conveyed in a very sad scene towards the end. How many of us, who have little choice but to use nursing homes at a certain stage in our loved  ones’ care, hear the plea when are you taking me home at every visit. 

Any care system we propose should as far as possible provide care at home. This requires real funding. Today I listened to Jonathon Ashworth, the Labour Party shadow  Health,  go on and on about some good principles for a better care system.  However, when pushed to spell out where is the money coming from, he kept on extolling how his proposals would create internal savings.  As John McDonnell and Owen Jones have recently pointed out Labour needs to spell things out much more clearly – progressive taxation is needed to pay for a better care set up. Given how Johnson is going to make working people pay the lion’s share of his new plan that protects better off homeowners, this issue should be an open goal for Labour.  Starmer’s team appear to be paranoid about any mention of higher taxes. They refuse to make the case for the progressive alternative because they will not challenge capital’s power in any way. They use an erroneous analysis of the lost ‘red wall’ voters to justify it.

The Father is available on streaming services for around a fiver and is well worth a watch whether you have experience or not of dementia. 

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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