The Daily Telegraph
This terrific film humanises the assisted dying debate
ATime to Die, ITV1’S superb documentary film, began by noting that over 425million people around the world now have the right to some form of medically assisted suicide. In England and Wales, however, anyone who assists a suicide risks criminal prosecution with a sentence of up to 14 years.
A Time to Die was painstakingly careful to avoid being a polemic for either side of this debate – it simply attempted to humanise it. So Jon Blair’s film followed five people’s stories over 90 minutes with extraordinary honesty and calm, as they all assessed their options and planned their final acts.
It was, as you would expect, absolutely heart-rending viewing. In many ways it was as much a meditation on death itself, leaving loved ones behind, as it was a debate – and an hour and a half staring straight into the face of mortality was not an easy watch. Footage of how people were years ago was intercut with footage of how they are now, a tragic juxtaposition (yet also a synopsis of life itself). Blair showed how what is regarded by the perpetrators as an act of love can lead to a police investigation.
Rightly, the film also gave time and respect to Baroness Ilora Finlay, professor of palliative medicine, a strong opponent of changing the law. Her opinion as a legislator is that we need to ask what might be the effect of a law change on the whole of the population, especially the vulnerable. Because some people in situations similar to those shown in
A Time to Die change and adapt and find themselves saying they never believed that they could live this well – her own mother being one example.
Much of the ground has been covered before, both in drama (Julie Walters’s A Short Stay in Switzerland from 2009) and in documentary (Channel 4 showed an excellent film earlier this year with Prue Leith challenging Danny Kruger MP, who is her son, on his anti-assisted suicide views). But the continued power and number of these stories suggests that people are yearning for resolution. In Scotland, a widely supported Private Members’ Bill is to be debated next year. A fortnight ago an Assisted Dying Bill overwhelmingly passed its second reading on the Isle of Man. Time for parliament here, surely, to have the debate once more.
The world is so awash with true-crime documentaries and podcasts that the mere sight of yet another presenter saying “But I wanted to know more…” while staring intently at a microfiche reader is enough to make you commit a crime yourself. Maybe throw your TV out the window and then pop downstairs to destroy the evidence (although make sure you record the defenestration so that you can monetise the whole endeavour by setting up your own 12-part podcast with a deep dive investigation into yourself).
But it seems that Marcel Theroux, brother of Louis, has either been living in a nuclear bunker for the last 10 years or simply doesn’t care that his foray into sleuthing is a usual suspects line up of true-crime clichés. In The Playboy Bunny Murder (ITV1), Theroux delivered all of the requisite noddies and shocked frowns as a series of retired coppers explained how the 1975 murder of Eve Stratford, a Playboy bunny, might or might not have been linked to the murders of Lynda Farrow, a croupier, four years later, and then of Lynne Weedon the same year.
Was it the Yorkshire Ripper, asked Theroux as he stood before the standard issue “I’m obsessed by this case” corkboard with photos and string and maps. Probably not, came the answer from the blind alley trumpet, 20 minutes later. Could it have been a corrupt copper (“we’ll call him policeman A”) or indeed another dodgy bobby, strolling the streets at night in a stolen uniform? And as usual: how come the police haven’t been investigating all this stuff already? (Usual answer: they have).
But I wanted to know more. Because the awful truth about why TV is awash with true-crime documentaries, dramas and detective stringalongs is that they are highly effective. Perhaps the most engrossing thing was Theroux himself. I haven’t seen him on television before (possibly because he’s been so obsessed with this case he just can’t stop for media opportunities), but he looks a bit like his better-known brother and sounds exactly like him. Given that the atmosphere engendered by a well-dressed true crimer like this is one of fervid suspicion, I did wonder if the biggest reveal of all might be that our investigator was his own brother in disguise. Or maybe they’re saving that for the inevitable follow-up series, Theroux Crime.
A Time to Die ★★★★★
The Playboy Bunny Murder ★★★