For just a few seconds, a husband recognises his wife long enough to be able to give her a hug. The smiles on their faces let you know this brief moment is precious to them both. But the joy can’t be long-lasting and, as that recognition slips away, the smiles fade.
When Carol Younghusband set out to write a short film about Alzheimer’s, she wanted to tell it through the eyes of two people, not one.
As the wife left behind, Josie clings on in the hope that husband Albert will remember who she is. You see her optimistic patience, the frustration she feels and her tenderness as she bends down to help him when he can’t remember how to put his socks on.
But Albert also has a story to tell – even if this illness has robbed him of his voice and what he understands about who he is.
The film, called Ten Glorious Seconds, features flashbacks of Albert as a young boy and man and it’s these scenes that show how he’s trying to remember and make a connection.
It’s a perspective that’s not often considered, mainly because so little is known about what goes on in the minds of those who have dementia.
‘I think people look at those with Alzheimer’s as they are now, especially young people,’ says Carol. ‘When you’re young it’s very difficult to see that person as they were.
‘What I wanted to do was give Albert a voice in the flashbacks. I wanted people to see that he was an ordinary, healthy man. A friend, a lover, a son and a husband. He was all of that at some stage.’
Filmed last summer, Ten Glorious Seconds has been a real hands-on project for Carol. The Southsea writer has enjoyed success during her career as part of the team behind comedy sketch show Smack The Pony. But as well as devising and writing this film, it was her first time as a producer and that means she lived through every moment of it being made.
With cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia expected to rise sharply over the next 10 years, the film deals with the heartbreak it can cause.
Carol’s initial interest in writing something about the subject came after her father’s death. Although he’d been mentally sharp she’d watched him waste away physically and that made her think: Would you choose to know your body was deteriorating, or to be spared from knowing that at the expense of losing your mental agility?
From that seed of an idea she started to explore dementia in more detail.
‘My aunt had Alzheimer’s and although she didn’t know who any of us were, if you started singing Christmas carols she could sing along,’ adds Carol.
‘It stimulated that part of her. So I spoke to other people with relatives who had Alzheimer’s and I read up about sensory stimulation and this led me to wonder if the stimulation could be love itself.
‘What if the love between two people was so strong it had the intensity to survive Alzheimer’s – if only for 10 seconds.’
The 11-minute film stars actors Paul Collard and Gabrielle Hamilton as Albert and Josie. Emmy award-winning David Suchet provides Albert’s voice through the flashback scenes which show his memory stirring.
As a not-for-profit film, Carol and director Simon Pitts relied on an army of willing volunteers to make sure it was made.
Children from Havant’s Stagecoach theatre arts school star in Albert’s childhood memories and those scenes were filmed at the town’s Fairfield Infant School. Other scenes were filmed in Winchester and a trout farm at Warnford, in the Meon Valley.
Released in February and with a London screening already under its belt, Carol’s deservedly proud of what’s been achieved. The film has been entered in a number of film festivals, including prestigious Cannes, and has been picked up by care homes.
‘Everyone I spoke to about the film knew someone who had Alzheimer’s and it was surprising how often that someone was a very close relative, or a very close friend,’ adds Carol.
‘Everyone had a story to tell. There wasn’t one person who hasn’t been affected by someone with Alzheimer’s.’
During her research Carol spoke to lots of people, including carers, the Alzheimer’s Society and relatives of those with dementia. She was shocked to learn that people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s might become aggressive and in the film Albert is shown pushing Josie away with surprising force.
It’s one of many powerful scenes that show what it’s like being both a carer and a cared for person when something as devastating as Alzheimer’s comes along to test a relationship to its very limits.
‘Where the whole nub of the film came from is that heartbreak,’ explains Carol. ‘The heartbreak that you share your life with someone and you can’t share it with them any more. They have become childlike. They’ve gone from being a rock to being someone who is fully dependant on you.
‘When you’re bringing up your children that’s natural but this is nature reversing itself. That struck me as being cruel.’
She adds: ‘It can go on for years and years. With a lot of illnesses you think “I can look after them and get them better”.
‘With this you know it’s not going to happen, there’s nothing to look forward to. It’s almost like saying goodbye twice. When do you say goodbye? When is that point? When they change from being your husband, or lover, or wife, to a dependant, it’s so gradual, there’s no time. You are grieving for them twice in a way.’
Ten Glorious Seconds can be watched for free on the internet and Carol wants as many people as possible to view it.
‘If it stirs awareness up that’s what it’s really about. It’s giving us a chance to discuss it and giving people who are in the middle of it a chance to discuss it with someone else and say “Look at this. This is what I’m going through”.’