24 September 2007 | Afzal-s2007
A Rare, Droll Film About Human Diversity And The Things We All Share
As Mark Twain once said, 'Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction', and that is certainly the case in Stuart: A Life Backwards.
A BBC Drama written by Alexander Masters, it is based on his acclaimed account of the real life of Stuart Shorter, a self-harming drug addict, career criminal (with a long history of violence), who is also homeless and suffers from muscular dystrophy.
This film, made for BBC TV, directed by veteran filmmaker David Attwood, is a dramatisation which skillfully and sinuously reconstructs the events that culminated in Alexander Masters publishing Stuart's unconventional biography. In an early scene, Stuart provides Alexander with the insight into how to write his unconventional book, 'Do it backwards...Like a murder mystery...what murdered the boy I was?' So Alexander sets out in this mode, trying to piece together the depressing, shocking trajectory of Stuart's life. But, unexpected to both men, in the process Stuart and Alexander become part of each other's life, transgressing socio-cultural boundaries and evolving a genuine, if eccentric, friendship.
This drama, unlike the majority of films based on extreme lives, does not simplify its subject, reducing its characters to two-dimensions eliciting cheap sentimentality. The characters in Stuart: A Life Backwards are not stripped of their complexities. Rather, they evince depth and subtlety. Stuart is not glamorised or victimised. He is vulgar, unfair, shockingly abusive, as well as sensitive, understanding and insightful. Nor is Masters made into a stock supporting character. He is at times the clear victim of middle class culture shock and has to fight his tendency to condescend. In short, they seem honest recreations of human beings.
Tom Hardy engages as Stuart, giving a tough and intelligent performance, and recreates his character's extreme physical traits with little mannerism. Benedict Cumberbatch also rises to his own, different challenge as Stuart's friend and witness with understatement and subtlety.
Stuart: A Life Backwards is a rare, droll, moving film that grows to understand the maddening complexity of life and subsequent near hopelessness in trying to find the factors behind someone's life. Instead, Stuart: A Life Backwards is a film about human diversity and the things we all share.