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#HotDocs23 Review: Much Ado About Dying

April 30, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2023 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 27th to May 7th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Simon Chambers was in India trying to finish a documentary about car culture in the country when he got a call from his Uncle David back in London, urging him to come home. David spoke of his imminent death, and wanted Simon to help care for him. Simon ended up staying for five years to help support his eccentric, former actor uncle, a process that is documented in the filmmaker’s exceptional documentary Much Ado About Dying.

Simon captures David in decline, but still as feisty as ever, determined not to have his independence taken away from him by the meddling social workers that he refuses to let into his apartment. The film follows the emotional ups and downs as Simon cares for David in his final years, and candidly comes to terms with being the sole caregiver to a challenging family member.

What’s immediately clear is that David loves performing, whether dancing in his chair or dramatically reciting Shakespeare. Like Simon, David is a gay man, only he didn’t come out until his mid-fifties (he also flirts with all of his male carers, even if they are straight and married). But David has his own stubborn way of doing things, which makes supporting him difficult. To solve his minor incontinence issues, he has started strategically relieving himself in jars around his apartment that Simon is expected to empty, and his place is a hoarder’s paradise that he keeps warm with aging heat lamps strewn about the mess of empty soup cans and cardboard boxes.

But what begins as a quirky character study of an aging drama queen who clearly loves the camera, becomes a very moving portrait of a person on their way out, that is sensitive and genuinely cathartic in the way that it handles death as a fact of life. Despite his outward exuberance and apparent joie de vivre, there is a sadness to David and his yearning for connection in his final years. The film is also fascinating and often devastating as an exploration of someone falling through the cracks of a patchwork system (David tells anyone who will listen that he is a proud socialist, though it’s clear that he has been somewhat failed by the NHS).

Chambers spoke in the Q&A after the screening about how David never got to realize his dream of playing King Lear, but in some ways this film serves as his version of it, delivering what is in a sense a final performance as he recites soliloquies and offers great insight as he reflects upon his life. He’s a subject you won’t soon forget in an incredibly moving film that touched me deeply by the end. What an absolutely wonderful work of documentary filmmaking this is.

Screenings: Friday, April 28th, 2:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 6; Tuesday, May 2nd, 8:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 6. Tickets can be purchased here, and the film will also be streaming online across Canada from May 5th to 9th.

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