Barry Norman, I most definitely am not but a film critic I have found myself becoming this week. And, what an exciting week it has been for those of us living with Parkinson’s who love nothing more than to indulge in a spot of symptom comparison with others. Two TV programmes provided us with an opportunity to do just this and the excitement in the Parkinson’s community was palpable.
The first programme under review is The Suspect, a five part ITV drama where the main character, a clinical psychologist was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s. As if this wasn’t excitement enough, the main character was played by Aidan Turner, who is fondly remembered for his portrayal of Poldark, topless with scythe in hand, exposing a torso that wasn’t built in a day.
Before commenting on the actual drama, the first disappointment resulted from the excessive facial hair sported by Aidan Turner, that hid any suggestion that there was a heart throb lurking beneath the undergrowth, The second disappointment was that the plot did not call for any topless shenanigans from Turner.
However, despite these initial disappointments, I stuck with the series, intrigued to see how the Young Onset Parkinson’s storyline would be woven in alongside the main storyline where the police were tasked with solving the murder of a troubled young woman. My initial concern was that Aidan Turner’s character might actually be guilty and that Young Onset Parkinson’s would evermore be wrongly associated with violent behaviour. I needn’t have worried, by episode three it had become apparent that there was absolutely no relationship at all between the clinical psychologist’s diagnosis of Young Onset Parkinson’s and any other aspect of the storyline.
Enduring the series through to its fifth and final episode did nothing to quell my disappointment nor do anything to relate the two disparate storylines, except for the fact that Turner’s neurologist was also his best friend which in itself is enough to call into question the judgement of both doctor’s. If the writer’s aim was to raise awareness of the fact that young people do develop Parkinson’s and to start conversations about the condition, then credit where credit is due, it ticks these boxes. However, if the writer’s aim was to portray the psychological and physical impact of diagnosis, then the disappointment across the Parkinson’s community was palpable.
Paxman, Putting Up with Parkinson’s
The second programme under review was a factual programme following the television presenter Jeremy Paxman through his experience of living with (or putting up with) Parkinson’s. I had absolutely no desire to witness Jeremy Paxman topless, scythe in hand, so the programme did not disappoint in this regard. However, if I was looking for a pro active, positive portrayal of someone striving to live as well as they can with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, then yet again, I was bitterly disappointed.
The tone was perhaps set when in the opening scenes, when Jeremy stated, I’m not living with Parkinson’s, I’m putting up with it. I maybe being oversensitive but there are words used in relation to Parkinson’s that I dislike. The notion of suffering from, being afflicted with or battling the condition are examples of these. So within the first five minutes when Michael Howard tells Jeremy Paxman ‘I have to say, when I watch University Challenge, I find it impossible to tell you have this terrible affliction.’ that was another nail in the coffin of the programme for me.
It is perhaps unrealistic to think I may learn anything new from such a programme when I have been living with Parkinson’s for the past seven years and I suspect it may have educated many people about some of the challenges and consequences of living with Parkinson’s. However, as a friend commented, one could be mistaken for thinking the worst symptom of Parkinson’s was becoming a grumpy old man. Credit to Jeremy Paxman, this was a role he played brilliantly.
This said, I applaud Jeremy for his courage in speaking out about his personal experience of living with Parkinson’s and the writers of The Suspect for highlighting the condition. Each of us will have a different experience of living with the condition and each of us will have our own views on how these were portrayed in these programmes. Without doubt, it has got people talking about Parkinson’s and this is a conversation we need to keep pushing if we are to achieve a greater awareness of the condition and increased funding for the research that is so vital in the quest to find a cure.
Finally if anyone is left with an image of Jeremy Paxman topless in their minds, lets hope it looks something like this…..