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04 May 2021

Anthony Hopkins wins Best Actor Oscar for portrayal of character with dementia

Despite statistics from the World Health Organisation stating that more than 5% of the global population over the age of 60 have some form of dementia, making it a fairly common disease, it is a condition that has a considerable stigma attached.

Florian Zeller's The Father, a film about a father and daughter navigating their difficult relationship as he lives with dementia, aims to change this by giving us a real insight into what it's like to live with the illness, as well as how difficult it is to care for someone with it. Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar for Best Actor in the title role will hopefully focus more attention on what it can mean to live with dementia

Adapted from Zeller's stage play of the same name, The Father focuses on Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), who is grappling with symptoms of dementia, and his contentious relationship with his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), who visits him at his west London flat, and is trying to arrange home help for him.

Anthony, a spirited, retired engineer who loves listening to opera arias and dancing as he did in his glory days, thinks Anne is worrying unduly, and does his best to stop her "interfering".

From the beginning it's clear Anthony is perhaps not the easiest man in the world to get along with, but over the course of the story, we come to understand his tumultuous world view, and how irritated, disorientated and frightened he is as a result of becoming increasingly unable to differentiate reality from his memories. 

The Father is a massive achievement in authentic, sympathetic dementia representation on screen, which simultaneously manages to bring depth to a character with dementia, while also providing an insight into what it can be like to watch someone you love develop the disease.

But while film is a useful tool in helping us understand dementia and process its emotional toll on both patients and carers, it's obviously no replacement for effective, comprehensive care.

The global population is ageing, which means dementia cases are increasing as more of us live longer; the total number of people with dementia around the world is projected to rise from around 50 million cases now to 82 million in 2030, and 152 in 2050.

Given these ever-spiralling numbers, it can only be hoped that a film like The Father, which is so impactful at a personal level, can help initiate more meaningful conversations at a policy-making one.

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