The C-Word

When magazine journalist Lisa Lynch was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28, she responded in the only way she knew how: by resolving to ‘write my way through The Bull****’ – her name for the disease – ‘and come out standing tall in a pair of Louboutins’.

Lisa’s blog, Alright Tit, proved something of a phenomenon, her blunt, witty, taboo-popping prose later collected into a best-selling book that turned her, by her own gently self-mocking admission, into ‘the Carrie Bradshaw of cancer’.

It also provided the perfect ready-made narration for this wise, graceful film starring Sheridan Smith – who, with characteristic determination, Lisa recruited herself via Twitter, prior to her death, aged 33, in 2013.

Smith was, as you would expect, extraordinary: exposing herself emotionally and physically – bald, bloated, scarred – it’s the sort of performance you might call brave. Except, of course, you don’t really need to be brave to be an actor. It’s not like having cancer.

As ‘US road trip’ was replaced on the kitchen calendar by ‘mastectomy’ and ‘chemo’, Lisa did her best to stay positive. But there were times when she surrendered, as we all surely would, to despair, and it’s to the film’s credit that it didn’t flinch from these moments, nor their impact on her husband Pete (a revelatory Paul Nicholls), whose own grief was so lovingly discreet.

If The C-Word had a message, it’s that there is no right way to ‘do’ cancer. When Lisa idly wondered to her best friend whether she ought to be flying kites on Hampstead Heath, she got short shrift: ‘Shall I tell you what terminally ill people fly kites? Pretend terminally ill people. Terminally ill people in films.’

And that’s why this story – of this ordinary yet extraordinary thing that happens to millions of people every year – felt like an important one to tell. Both constrained and emboldened by real life, there were no writerly tricks, no third act reveals and no dramatic plot twists, save for the brutal, workaday fact of cancer going away, and then coming back again.

For Lisa, there would be no happy ending, no kites, no Louboutins. What she does have, though, is a legacy – an inspirational life force that even The Bull**** couldn’t take from her.

 

TV extra:

 

The Enfield Haunting

This pulse-quickening chiller swaps gothic crypts and storm-lashed castles for a drab North London semi to tell the – ahem – true story of an outbreak of paranormal activity in the late 1970s. Apparently filmed in authentic 70s gruel-o-vision, period details include David Soul on the walls and KerPlunk marbles flying around the room. The shocks are brilliantly executed, and Timothy Spall is typically fabulous as a crumpled ‘psychical investigator’. The break-out star, though, is Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Janet, the 11-year-old girl on whom all the phantom’s attentions seem focused. Cushion advised.

 

Home Fires

ITV’s latest Sunday night nostalgia fix has to be a contender for the least dramatic drama ever made. The stakes in its central plot – will the Great Paxford Women’s Institute have to shut up shop for the duration of the Second World War? – are so low it makes The Darling Buds of May look like Ripper Street. All I could think about was that Victoria Wood sketch in which they re-made ER as WI (‘This is the Women’s Institute – if you want to panic, join the Townswomen’s Guild!’).

 

Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 7, 2015

(c) Waitrose Weekend