People very rarely talk frankly about death in advertising, which makes this new series of films from Channel 4 for its charity event Stand Up To Cancer particularly striking…
The films feature actor Stephen Graham, comedian Adam Hills and presenter Davina McCall all talking about the impact that cancer has had on them personally, due to the death of a family member. Simply shot by director Simon Dinsell, they open with Graham, Hills and McCall explaining the first time they heard that their loved one had the disease. They then go on to explain, with great frankness and emotion, how circumstances played out in their individual stories.
Due to sadness of the tales, the films are not an easy watch, yet the series feels like a significant step in the way that cancer is discussed. Whereas the convention in cancer charity fundraising is to talk about the disease in the context of ‘fighting’ and ‘hope’, it is rare for death to be mentioned, despite the fact that its presence remains constantly in the background.
In recent months there has been something of a backlash against the battle talk that surrounds cancer, with writers including Jenny Diski complaining of its dominance. Writing in the London Review of Books of her own diagnosis Diski said: “Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.”
The message of hope and survival is an important one – particularly as recent statistics show that more people now survive a cancer diagnosis than die from it – but there is a place for sadness and reflection on loss too. These films are difficult to turn away from when they appear on television, standing out starkly among the cheery messages we are used to seeing between programmes. While saddening, they will likely prove cathartic to those who may have lost family members and friends in similar circumstances, and will hopefully prompt viewers to donate to Cancer Research, which of course is the whole point of the campaign.
Stand Up To Cancer is a night of fundraising and comedy that takes place on Channel 4 on Friday October 17.
Director: Simon Dinsell
Producer: Ben Mann
Production manager: Annalisa Horswell
Lead editor: Rachael Jury
Editor: Phil Eldridge
Directors of photography: Saul Gittens, Amy Newstead, Laurens Scott
Sound recordists: Max Holland, Patrick Calvert
Camera assistants: Lami Okrekson, Gregory Britten
Music written and composed by: Luke Corradine
Production company: Tinderbox