‘The Forgotten C’ (UK, 2020) produced and co-written by Jessi Gutch, directed by Molly Manning Walker, is available to stream free from 10am BST 24 September on The Uncertain Kingdom YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdK4RoVAJx94Ni_2zG5HVnQ
Film Review by Khalid Ali, film, and media correspondent
The impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients has been substantial; most cancer screening programmes, diagnostic and treatment services have been put on hold during the pandemic. A modelling study from the UK including patients with breast cancer, colorectal cancer, oesophageal cancer, and lung cancer, reported an expected 3291–3621 additional deaths within 5 years, and an additional 59 204–63 229 years of lives lost (1). Inspired by the lived experience of its producer Jessi Gutch, ‘The Forgotten C’ is a timely reminder of cancer patients adversely affected by the COVID pandemic. The film tells the story of ’Aisha’ (Mandeep Dhillon), a young newly married Asian woman diagnosed with terminal cancer shielding at home. Her father Asim (Anil Goutam), a bus driver, is following the UK Government advice by talking to Aisha from across the road keeping a safe distance while she sits by her flat window. Feeling lonely, isolated, and overwhelmed by the prospect of dying soon, Aisha is deprived of physical contact with her parents, sister, and friends at such a vulnerable time when she needs them the most. With the best will in the world, virtual meetings and distant conversations can never replace a loving hug. Aisha’s husband and family members had to tread a fine line between caring as opposed to over-protection; a situation leading to arguments and tension in Aisha’s household.
Capturing the feelings of desperation and loneliness that everyone suffered during lockdown, the film argues that the mental well-being of cancer patients has been particularly affected, Jessi comments; ‘’It is ten times worse when you can’t think “oh this is just a year of my life” when this may well be the last year of your life. I was quite literally staring from my window at life passing by and wondering how on earth I am going to cope if this is how my last moments are going to be spent. I had just received the bad news that the strongest chemo on offer hadn’t worked for me. ‘The Uncertain Kingdom’, a film production platform (2), was commissioning a film that “showed a unique perspective on the pandemic that can be shot within government guidelines”, and I immediately thought that this is the unique perspective whereby I can share my story. Seeing the experience of a cancer patient on screen would provide others in a similar situation with comfort and validation. It really did feel – and still does – like cancer has been forgotten amidst COVID. Cancer doesn’t stop for COVID, and is as deadly, hence treatment efforts must continue. As we head into a seemingly inevitable second wave and lockdown, I want the film to be used as a tool to inspire and persuade policymakers and health ministers to avoid repeating the same mistakes again’’
‘The Forgotten C’ is the 21st film to be commissioned and funded by ‘The Uncertain Kingdom’ in partnership with Maggie’s Cancer Charity (3). Jessi reiterates that telling the story of an Asian woman was a conscious decision made by the film makers; ‘’Molly and I both wanted to show the disproportionate impact of COVID on the BAME community many of whom are undervalued and often unprotected key workers such as Aisha’s father. The film is dedicated to Saima, a young cancer patient who died during lockdown. I attended an awareness event Saima organised where she talked about the systemic issues that people of colour face when diagnosed with cancer. There is a lack of media representation of the views and experiences of BAME people living with cancer’’
The film truthfully portrays the British public strictly adhering to government shielding guidance; ‘We are all in this together’ was the unspoken conviction supporting the slogan ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’. The weekly Thursday 8 pm moment when people around the UK stood and clapped to the NHS in unison was a moment of solidarity and appreciation for the NHS during incredibly challenging times.
While set during COVID times, ‘The Forgotten C’ in succinct 15 minutes also explores the wide ramifications of cancer and dying at a young age on family members and friends. In view of its universal message and timeliness, the film speaks to a whole range of audience including patients, families, healthcare professionals and policy makers in the UK and internationally.
- The Uncertain Kingdom, https://theuncertainkingdom.co.uk/
- Maggie’s Charity, https://www.maggies.org/