Wonderland: Granny’s Moving In, BBC Two, review

imageMichael Deacon on the unforgettable Wonderland film about the blackly comic wretchedness of ageing.

Philip Larkin was terrified of dying. Then again, he was also terrified of living to old age. I think that’s probably what you call a lose-lose situation. As it turned out, he died at only 63, so he at least escaped the latter of those two fates.

At 50 he’d written “The Old Fools”, about what he imagined it must be like to start losing your mind; the poem is empathetic, appalled, and chilling. “Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms/ Inside your head, and people in them, acting./ People you know, yet can’t quite name… That is where [the old] live:/ Not here and now, but where all happened once./ That is why they give/ An air of baffled absence, trying to be there/ Yet being here…”

Last night’s Wonderland documentary on BBC Two, Granny’s Moving In, was “The Old Fools” brought to life. The granny of the title was Peggy, 83, the sort of age at which everyone younger treats you as if you’re a tourist who’s just asked for directions to the bus station in broken English: they talk to you LOUD-LEE and SLOW-LEE while smiling EN-COU-RAG-ING-LEE. When we met her, she was about to move in with her middle-aged daughter Sue and Sue’s husband, Phil. What made this arrangement difficult was that Peggy was in the early stages of dementia.

As the film wore on, Peggy’s symptoms intensified. At first she seemed chatty and personable, a fount of anecdotes, albeit anecdotes that weren’t entirely easy to follow: one was about an unspecified accident in the high street “some while ago” supposedly caused by Ken Livingstone (“I can remember so well, he was wearing a blue satin tie. And I got hold of his tie, and I said…”).

But then Peggy started taking day trips to London on her own, coming home late at night, falling in with strange men. “And then one of the men says, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’, so…”

In an upsetting role reversal, Sue found herself scolding Peggy in the manner of a panicked mother to a teenager. As with most teenagers, it didn’t work. Peggy became more and more volatile, argumentative and accusatory (“Why don’t you throw me out in the dustbin?”). She swore at and insulted her daughter repeatedly. We saw her sitting at the dining table with her fingers in her ears, refusing to remove them or speak to anyone.

Sue despaired. “Dementia patients wind you up,” she told the camera helplessly. “They criticise you, they test you – as a child can test you. But with a child you can say, ‘Sit down, shut up, you’re not getting your dinner if you don’t behave’ – how can you do that with your mother?”

The ending promised better times ahead: Peggy moved into a specially converted “granny annex” next door to Sue and Phil, to the evident relief of both parties. But for the viewer, certainly this viewer, it wasn’t enough to blot out the blackly comical wretchedness that preceded it.

Last night’s brilliant, awful film – unforgettable in the way nightmares are – stood as a challenge to the young. After a lifetime spent busily ignoring the merest thought of it, will we be ready to face – in Larkin’s aghast phrase – the whole hideous inverted childhood?

Well, we shall find out.

Gearbest TS - BT35A08 Bluetooth 3.0 Car Audio Music Receiver with Handsfree Function Mic
TS - BT35A08 Bluetooth 3.0 Car Audio Music Receiver with Handsfree Function Mic only $2.99