health drama seen by 1.3 million
by Angela Hussain
Channel 4 drama based on a highly-acclaimed novel by a former psychiatric
patient was watched by 1.3 million viewers on Monday
Poppy Shakespeare was a powerful dramatisation of the same-named
book by Clare Allen, who spent ten years as a patient at the now-closed
Belle Ridley Psychiatric Day Hospital, north London.
The dramatisation revolved around a day centre at Dorothy Fish,
a fictional hospital in north London. ‘N’ (played by
Anna Maxwell Martin) has been a patient there for 13 years and never
wants to be discharged.
Poppy Shakespeare (Naomie Harris), however, is certain she has been
unjustly diagnosed as mentally ill and is desperate to return to
her life outside. N agreed to help her. But, it all ends up as a
tragic Catch 22. Portrayals of patients and staff were a central
feature of the humorous and satirical drama
Allen’s publishers, Bloomsbury, describe Poppy Shakespeare
as “the most arresting account of madness since One Flew Over
the Cuckoo's Nest”
Although Allen says her book is fictional, she adds it “could
never have been written had I not spent nigh on a third of my life
as a patient in the psychiatric system”.
Allen says that when a patient she was actually discouraged from
pursuing her writing ambitions.
"Before I broke down I had written two book length manuscripts.
I had also published articles in the Guardian, and a number of magazines,”
"I’d been working part-time to pay the rent but my ‘job’
as I saw it was writing. At the day hospital this was taken as so
much delusion. I remember reading my notes upside down across the
doctor’s desk. ‘Clare is a tall, slim young woman, well-kempt,
who describes herself as a ‘writer’’.
"I was told that I had a major illness and I needed to adjust
my expectations. When they started a creative writing group, I was
forbidden from taking part.”
Allen, now a Guardian columnist, says she has been given a range
of diagnoses, including paranoid psychosis, psychotic depression,
developing schizophrenia, manic depression, major psychotic disorder
and borderline personality.
was longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and shortlisted
for the BT Mind Book of the Year Award, 2007
Below psychminded has printed extracts from some reviews of the
drama. They were mixed.
But we would like to know what you thought, especially as Poppy
Shakespeare is a rare example of a mental-health centred drama.
Did the dramatisation, or does the book, touch on real dynamics
within a psychiatric day centre? How did you think the patients
and staff were portrayed? Did the story line have any resonance
Let us know on the comments form below.
"Anna Maxwell Martin's performance as N was remarkable. In
a pudding bowl haircut and red puffer jacket, she looks not so much
childlike as babyish. Her face is at first glance blank; in fact,
however much she tries, it is unable to conceal her emotions.
For N, the friendship with Poppy is a romance, her first real relationship
since her mother killed herself when N was 4. The book, however,
lets us see how N kills the things she loves by stealing Poppy's
in Sarah Williams's adaptation, I could not see how N behaved in
any way culpably towards her friend, who is a victim, instead, of
an unlikely NHS conspiracy. It was a touching, lovingly acted film,
with a highly evocative score by Molly Nyman and Harry Escott, but
it replaced Clare Allan's angry, satirical brio with a futile melancholy.
Now read the book.”
Andrew Billen of The Times
“In bidding to update and anglicise One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
Nest, Poppy Shakespeare focused too firmly on its chosen nest -
an inner-city psychiatric day-centre threatened with closure by
its profit-obsessed political overseers. It thus lost sight of its
cast of cuckoos.
Poppy Shakespeare herself failed to convince. Her slow descent into
mental illness failed to spark sympathy. Luckily, there was always
the subtle and brilliant Anna Maxwell Martin.
Her portrayal of N, Poppy's wan guide to the mad laws of the mental-health-care
system, gripped thoroughout the course of a journey from unquestioning
self-sedation to angry independence."
Call me old-fashioned, but I like a drama to have something to take
me by the scruff of the neck and pull me through. A story, even.
At the heart of this is an on-off friendship which meanders along,
flitting confusingly between reality and fantasy. There's so little
direction you could chop the whole thing up, put it together in
a different order, and it wouldn't make any difference whatsoever.
And that's hard work, over nearly two hours. Worthy theatre, brought
to your living room, that's what it felt like. I got a sore arse,
from my own sofa. I wonder what percentage of the people who started
at nine o'clock were still there at 10.45.
It's the sort of film people will say they enjoyed, because they
feel they should have. They may even convince themselves they did.
But go on, admit it, it was actually bloody boring.
Sam Wollaston, The Guardian
issues head on
Michael Hall, project support worker, Enfield
April 6, 2008
Shakespeare was brilliant and tackled tricky issues head on. People
facing problems of living, which can never be successfully isolated
into mental health alone, get faced with a dilemmas - that of finding
the help they so desperately need without playing the game of being
mad that statutory mental health services demands them to play with
such devious and total coercion.
is so shocking is that so few patients and society in general know
of any alternatives. Few workers have any interest in questioning
perversion of the word 'asylum' is almost complete and our reliance
on pharmaceutical solutions is blocking almost totally humane alternates
to be developed.
must all demand some mindful rethinking of the care of such valuable,
yet vulnerable, subjects of this country!
government's current attack of people with disabilities and DLA
reviews are creating similar dilemmas. Those working hard to live
well in the face of long-term chronic illnesses are facing a loss
of the benefits.
of people's needs is being done with, at best clumsy, at worst dangerous,
blunt instruments, especially when fueled by the government’s
obsession with targets and public spending cuts!
do you think? Email your comments on the above
article to the editor using the form below. Selected comments will
© 2001-7 Psychminded Limited. All
about this article