TV review: The August Years of May and Gloria/The Lazarus Effect

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The August Years of May and Gloria, STV The Lazarus Effect, Channel 4

HAVING taken the decision to strengthen their identity (ie save money) by declining to broadcast several ITV programmes that Scottish viewers would probably quite like to watch, it would be nice if STV opted to pepper its schedules with more observational documentaries like The August Years of May and Gloria.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker Maureen Judge, it sketched an intimate portrait of a mother and daughter coping with the former's Alzheimer's, while preparing for a life-changing move from Canada to their original home in Scotland.

Having lived in Canada for more than 30 years, 82-year-old May was reticent about leaving her familiar surroundings and its associated memories. Her 59-year-old daughter, Gloria, however, was adamant that they could both have a better quality of life in Scotland. Nevertheless, both were united in their desire to reunite with their respective sisters back home, despite having to leave behind their children and grandchildren in Canada.

Both widowed, the women lived together in, by their own admission, a manner more akin to an old married couple than mother and daughter. But they clearly adored each other, trading good-humoured barbs and jokes about their situation in a way that only people who truly love each other can.

May's stubbornness – and indeed some of the more benign aspects of her condition – supplied much of the film's gentle humour, as the women argued to and fro about their differences of opinion.

Gloria spoke openly about her occasional feelings of resentment, having essentially sacrificed everything to look after her ailing mother. But there was never any doubt that she was doing all she could for May under trying circumstances. Sadly, May's Alzheimer's appeared to have gradually worsened after returning to Edinburgh. And yet on a daytrip around their old neighbourhood, devised by Gloria and her sister in an effort to jog May's memory, she seemed to genuinely remember everything about the old days and even recognised a neighbour she hadn't seen in nearly 40 years. But just moments later she was mixing up the identity of her own children.

A poignant, understated treatise on the importance of memory and familial kinship, The August Years of May and Gloria ended with a bittersweet caption stating that May had moved into a care home and that Gloria had found her own flat in Edinburgh. Here's hoping they live the rest of their lives in relative contentment.

Respectively produced and directed by offbeat filmmaker Spike Jonze and music video director Lance Bangs, and made in cooperation with Bono-fronted African aid initiative, (RED), The Lazarus Effect was a surprisingly uplifting and quirk-free documentary about growing efforts to curb the scourge of HIV/Aids in Africa.

Told primarily through the words of medical staff and patients, the film showed how the free proliferation of antiretroviral medication throughout Africa has saved the lives of about three million people in the past few years. Given that HIV/Aids has killed more than 20 million Africans, this may seem like a drop in the ocean, but it's clear that attempts to increase awareness of these astonishingly effective drugs – a daily dose of which can be produced for just 20p – will continue to grow significantly. A heartening story of hope.

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