‘I DON’T need to be eradicated. I don’t need to be cured. I need to be loved, valued, educated and, sometimes, helped.’
Those were the stirring words of activist John Franklin Stephens as he spoke at the United Nations last month about the treatment of those with Downs Syndrome.
Stephens’ speech was hopefully heard around the world at a time when countries such as Iceland and Denmark are heading towards the elimination of Downs Syndrome through pre-natal diagnosis and abortion. As Stephens warns, such an approach should be viewed as a ‘canary in the eugenics coal mine’.
For more weight behind Stephens’ words, you only have to watch Jane Gull’s affecting film My Feral Heart. It is a stunning accomplishment of small-scale British filmmaking – life-affirming and powerful in so many ways.
Gull’s film tells the story of Luke (Steven Brandon), an endearing man with Downs Syndrome, who is sent to live in a care home following the death of his mother. This is a change the active and caring Luke struggles to come to terms with. So much so that he sneaks out of the home to wander around the surrounding countryside. These trips lead Luke to cross paths – and strike up a friendship – with Pete (Will Rastall), a young man serving community service.
Not to be underestimated, Luke helps an orange-vested Pete complete his tasks as the two cheeky, animal-loving spirits continue to bond. Their time together acts as welcome respite from the captivity of their lives, as well as recent family losses. It is a closeness that even leads Pete to warmly tell Luke: ‘We’re not so different you and me.’
Brandon and Rastall are magnificent, along with the equally impressive Shana Swash who plays Luke’s couthy carer Eve. These three performances bring a humility that aligns with My Feral Heart’s closeness with nature.
Susanne Salavati’s stunning cinematography and Barrington Pheloung’s matching emotive score tap into British nature – just like Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country and Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling. The result is moving sequences of earthy cinema.
Even with a short 83-minute runtime, Gull’s film is guaranteed to leave a mark. She has crafted a beautifully feral piece of British cinema. A film to admire in its execution and prevailing spirit.
This was review 4/30 of April’s Close-up Culture Monthly Challenge – Female Filmmakers.