A made-for-TV movie about mental health and the UK health services this week and – ho boy – it’s a bleak ride. I’m going to swerve the preamble and head straight into the review because honestly, there’s not much more I can say by way of introduction.
Poppy Shakespeare (2008)
N has been a day patient at north London’s Dorothy Fish day hospital for 13 years – her ambition is never to leave. Then she meets glamourous new patient Poppy Shakespeare, an ad agency receptionist convinced she’s not mad.
N (Anna Maxwell Martin) has been a long term patient on the Dorothy Fish mental health ward for most of her life. While she lives alone in her own flat, she visits the ward daily and spends the majority of her time with a familiar group of fellow patients.
Her only ambition in life (at least when we meet her) is to be a patient there forever.
All this changes when she is entrusted to act as guide for a new patient, the gorgeous Poppy Shakespeare (Naomie Harris). Poppy is unlike anyone N has met before, rocking up reluctantly, screaming that she’s in the wrong place and that she isn’t fucking mad.
Poppy maintains that she doesn’t have mental health issues like the rest of them and as a single parent, needs to get the fuck out of Dorothy Fish. The only trouble is, having just lost her job, there’s no money – and to get money to pay for a lawyer to prove she isn’t mentally ill, she has to convince the government she is mad. You can see the conundrum.
Anyway, the unlikely N and Poppy begin to grow closer, despite their seeming differences and things start to change at DF as, due to government budget cuts, the powers that be keep discharging patients who feel they aren’t ready for the outside world yet, sometimes with tragic results.
N fears this will happen to her but is assured they’re still eager to keep an eye on her at the centre. Uh-huh.
Despite N’s best efforts, Poppy slowly begins to lose her grasp and things get worse still when she’s told she has to remain a out-patient for six months.
Then N’s worst nightmare is realised when she’s released from the only world she’s ever really known, just as Poppy makes a drastic decision about her own life.
What next for our new friends?
Will they make it over these unimaginable hurdles? And will Poppy ever get her life, and her daughter, back?
This is not a cheerful film and although there are moments of hope and happiness, particularly as the central friendship blossoms, don’t go expecting a neat and pretty ending.
I find it as terrifying as any horror movie, and the fact that Poppy seemingly has no control over her own life once the wheels are set in motion is frightening af. Mental health is a topic close to my own heart and this is a very real and desperately sad look at a group of characters who aren’t being looked after particularly well. They all deserve so much better.
The two central performances are stunning and I love the two women together, particularly the scene in which they mirror each other’s body language in a group exercise. But the ending is just too sad for me, it’s too real.
That said, more films like this should be made and as far as I understand it, it paints a realistic portrait of a mental health patient dealing with a deep familial history of depression and self-harm.
2.5/5. Turns out I’m not a fan of anything too real. What’s my problem, eh?