In the wake of a pandemic, it’s hard not to talk about Covid 19. Gone are the “rubbish weather we’ve been having, eh?” days of small talk; 2021 marks the new era of conversation, during which it’s impossible to bump into an old friend without referring at least once to “the year we’ve had”.
Despite this, it is harder still to actually talk about the ins and outs of the pandemic – we know the stats and the facts, but most of us can’t bear to cast our minds back to the reality of what happened and just how many people died. Jack Thorne’s one-off film Help focusses on a 20-year-old navigating her way around a care home at the beginning of the pandemic, addressing why, where, and how we went wrong.
We follow what Anita Singh describes in The Telegraph as “the fantastic performances of Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham”, a clever casting choice which draws us into a conversation which we would rather not have. However, The Times’s Camilla Long takes issue with Graham’s casting, asking “what, exactly, is he doing in this?”. Long wanted “far less of him, and less of Comer, and more of the obscure details of life in care homes” to keep the show’s focus tight.
Admittedly, the final third of the film does meander into a Bonnie and Clyde style plot which does little to serve the film’s purpose, with a fanciful focus on Sarah (Comer) and Tony’s (Graham) relationship. The dizzy third act does not, however, distract from what Carol Midgley describes in The Times as the film’s “honesty, soul and almost documentary-like filmmaking”.
This “documentary-like” style is bolstered by the real star of the show; the night shift which Sarah is forced to cover all alone, shot as Midgley states, “in the style of a horror film, as one continuous take”, casting a Kubrick-esque lens on the hellish reality of care and Covid. However, the eeriest part of the film is the fact that there is no need to dramatise events – this really happened, and it really was horrific.
Singh thinks “it wasn’t a tear-jerker”, but don’t be embarrassed if you blubbered – there wasn’t a dry eye on our side of the screen.
First shown September 2021.