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Malcolm and Barbara - A Love Story (1999)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment ltd

Main image of Malcolm and Barbara - A Love Story (1999)
Granada Television for ITV, tx. 24/6/1999
75 mins, colour
DirectorPaul Watson
Production CompanyGranada Television
ProducerPaul Watson
EditorKim Horton

A chronicle of four years in the life of Malcolm and Barbara Pointon, charting Malcolm's descent into Alzheimer's dementia and Barbara's tireless care for a once-loving husband who now scarcely recognises her.

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This simple, powerful story of a couple's relationship in the face of devastating illness shows filmmaker Paul Watson's observational documentary style at its best. Malcolm Pointon's tragic decline into Alzheimer's disease and Barbara's articulate resilience and compassion, interspersed with moments of surprising wit and deep despair, made for compelling and at times almost overwhelmingly moving viewing.

Far from being merely a dispassionate observer, Watson is a major presence in the film, often intervening to question his subjects, although, unlike, say, Nick Broomfield, he is never seen on camera. He filmed in the Pointon household over the course of four years, and his close rapport with Barbara is unmistakeable. He isn't afraid to ask her and Malcolm quite intimate and leading questions. While some may question the ethics of filming certain moments - and Watson did face some accusations of intrusiveness in the press - his direct, open and sensitive approach mitigates any charge of manipulation. Significantly, Barbara Pointon has consistently and publicly defended the filmmaker against his critics.

Under the benevolent but unflinching gaze of Watson's camera, Barbara's fortitude shines through in the most trying of circumstances, including abuse and even physical violence from her declining husband. Malcolm, meanwhile, is never treated with anything less than kindness, despite being shown in less than dignified situations, including being assisted to go to the toilet or having a nappy manoeuvred around his unco-operative body.

Malcolm and Barbara was an unexpected critical and ratings success, and won the documentary of the year award from the Royal Television Society. Some eight years later Watson revisited the Pointons for Malcolm and Barbara - Love's Farewell (ITV, tx. 8/8/2007), which saw him embroiled in a much broader ongoing controversy about documentary standards when he was accused - unfairly - of deceiving viewers into believing that Malcolm's moment of death was depicted on screen.

Ros Cranston

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Video Clips
1. The life of Malcolm Pointon (2:29)
2. Looking for Barbara (2:20)
3. Measuring dementia (3:26)
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