Wednesday 14 September 2022

"The Cancer Conflict" (Guardian 12/09/22)

The Cancer Conflict

Dir: Thomas Meadmore. With: Grant Branton, Surinder Paul. 87 mins. Uncertificated.

Coinciding with World Cancer Research Day, Thomas Meadmore’s tricky yet innately involving documentary follows two Brits going rogue in search of a better quality of treatment. Brighton’s Grant Branton is a sometime biologist reeling after early tests spotted tumours in his bowels while missing shadows in his bones; Surinder Paul, landed with breast cancer, hopes to avoid a mastectomy by leaning hard into oils, juicing and cravatted energy healers – what oncological voice-of-reason Rob Glynne-Jones calls “quackery”. Both have taken their lives into their own hands, which notionally affords them greater control but also obliges them to take critical decisions – even fashion their own suppositories – on ever-dwindling energy reserves.

It's tricky because Meadmore broadly detaches these subjects from any context beyond the rooms they’re in. (There’s nothing of Grant’s media career, for example.) Emphasis is thereby placed firmly on the individual, but many viewers will want more about Grant and Surinder’s precise relationship to the NHS, and – if they went private – how and how much they’re paying. (It’s unclear from what’s shown, possibly reflecting the blurred lines of modern British healthcare.) As carefully applied voiceover takes pains to establish, these two are outliers: Grant’s Facebook interactions and a troubling encounter with a self-appointed American guru illustrate how close we are to the fringes of anti-science conspiracy theory.

Yet both patients remain compelling figures, eliciting natural sympathy and concern as they eye the enemy within. (No melodramatic “fights” or “battles” here – just the humdrum reality of endless tests and meetings to reveal results of tests.) Alpha-adjacent Grant endures horrific coughing fits to reaffirm his love for wife Christine; while Surinder has the advantage of a large, loving, supportive family, she’s evidently determined to go her own way. For his part, Meadmore bides ever-more-valuable time, monitoring his subjects’ ebbs and flows, allowing them to make their own choices and us to form our own opinions, before finally ensuring the facts of these poignant case studies speak for themselves. 

The Cancer Conflict will be available to rent from Monday.

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