Malcolm And Barbara… Love’s Farewell, ITV1

by | Aug 8, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

An exhausting chronicle of the disintegration of a human soul.

What was good about it?

• The titanic fortitude of Malcolm’s wife Barbara as she nursed him the best she could through the degenerative malice of Alzheimer’s disease. The majority of the documentary focused on Malcolm’s most precipitous decline in 1996-97, which was when his consciousness and sensibilities were all but eroded away by the illness.

• During this period, Barbara suffered the distress of watching Malcolm crumble from a “gentle, loving” husband into a virtual child who threw tantrums and physically abused her. She also bemoaned the lack of support from the NHS as she cared for his each and every need such as taking him to the toilet in the middle of the night, cleaning up the mess he left behind and ultimately feeding him.

• Barbara’s rare moments of happiness and reflection as she literally watched her husband waste away to nothing over a tortuous 15 years. Their walks in Hope Cove in Devon were tinged with the horrid optimism that perhaps his illness could be reversed through exposure to happy memories. She also contemplated life after Malcolm a full decade before his death, where she spoke of having another relationship because of her phobia of being alone, while her evenings were made more bearable by a few glasses of gin and tonic and a crossword as, with Malcolm in bed, this was the time she “can pretend everything is all right”.

• With Malcolm it was upsetting to observe a clever and dignified man reduced to a shambling zombie within a period of just a couple of years. It was strange to witness how, while his speech, memory and motor functions went haywire, his talent for playing the piano remained relatively undiminished until he was finally consigned to hospital after Barbara was unable to care for him any longer.

What was bad about it?

• The way in which Malcolm’s illness made him a quite nasty character. He would complain about the music therapist who came to visit, moaning she “has no sense of music”. And when the frustration became too much he would punch the devoted Barbara.

• The mood of Love’s Farewell was quickly established as narrator Paul Watson pointed the camera at Barbara or Malcolm (and sometimes their son Martin) and simply let them talk. Malcolm’s elderly mother, who had earlier said she wasn’t round “to see the end”, was pictured with her wizened face up against a ticking clock as Watson announced that she had died a little while afterwards. The framing of the face and clock was quite clever, but here it just appeared to be rather crass and ostentatious.

• The childish tests Malcolm was asked to take when he went for a brain scan, such as recognising a telephone or a squirrel, were a legitimate medical procedure but, perhaps because it’s ITV1, there was the suspicion they were included to provide the desensitised masses who’d been slouched in front of the TV since Jeremy Kyle an empirical measure of Malcolm’s decline whereas his state of health was apparent to anyone with a single atom of sensitivity through his ubiquitously incoherent senses.

• Before the broadcast, there was plenty of nebulous chatter along the lines of how at the very end of the film Malcolm wasn’t dead after the original press release had said he would be. This whole cesspit about ‘truth’ on television would be bearable and worthy of discussion if was (a) driven by genuine concern and not lustful corporate avarice, and (b) even slightly relevant.

Aside from the odd sporadic serious breach of trust (Blue Peter), the majority of the ‘scandals’ are greedy idiots being fleeced out of money they would have spent on something even more worthless than an impossible phone competition, which even when valid, is next-to-impossible anyhow. Why don’t they just queue up outside ITV1 or whoever’s HQ and throw money at the windows?

The inquisitors with the frothing mouths and taut nooses in their reddened hands are chiefly (right-wing) newspapers who have the sole intention of reducing the inherent superior level of trust the public has for TV news (especially the BBC) rather than their anxiety being born of altruism towards consumers. This has been accentuated by their remorseless pursuit of supposed ‘fakery’ such as that seen on Bear Grylls’ survival shows. We don’t give a damn if was true or not, whether Bear was shivering in the Canadian wastelands overnight or if he spent the evening being fellated by Martian prostitutes while orbiting the 14th moon of Saturn – it’s an entertainment show and such details are irrelevant.

Which brings us on to the debate over the veracity of if Malcolm’s ‘death scene’ was of any significance. Watching the documentary it was clear that Malcolm died long before his physical death, and for about the last decade has been pitifully drained away to ultimately resemble a toy running low on batteries with the only vestige of humanity awarded to him by Barbara’s undying love. Anyone who tuned in saw Malcolm die, but they did so over a period of 15 years rather than the one flicker of the cadaverous eyes which marked his last moment of consciousness.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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