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Film review: Inside I'm Dancing

by Claire Fisher

19th November 2004

Inside I'm Dancing is a new British film tackling the subject of independent living, with two disabled characters in the lead roles. However, the actors playing them are not themselves disabled.
The film receives its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2004 on Monday 23 August, but Claire Fisher has already had a sneak preview.

Fifteen minutes into this comedy I was screaming inside. When I heard that Working Title (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually etc) had chosen the name Inside I'm Dancing for a disability film for the mainstream, my heart sank.

Working Title is, we were told, very proud of this film. They want it to be the film to see this October, and are spending £1.5 million (a lot) promoting it. Wow, I thought, a film about disability actively being promoted in the mainstream - fantastic.

That is where my enthusiasm ended. The film begins with a group of care home residents lined up watching Bagpuss. After that it lurches excruciatingly from one cliché to the next, the only respite being some mainly dire jokes.

In my opinion this is homogenised disability, palatably packaged. At best a TV movie. It lacks any real insight and is poorly acted by its unknown 'stars'. What also annoyed me was the humiliating portrayal throughout of people with disabilities as both unworldly and emotionally naïve. Surely thinking about disability has evolved further than this??
Michael Connolly, played by Steven Robertson
The storyline, originated by writer Christian O'Reilly, who once worked as a PA for a man with cerebral palsy, goes like this:

Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson) is in his early twenties and has lived in residential care all his life. He abides by the rules of Carrigmore Home for the Disabled, presided over by the formidable Eileen (Brenda Fricker).
Rory O'Shea, played by James McAvoy
The safe predictability of his life is utterly transformed, however, by the arrival of wisecracking, Billy Idol look-a-like, Rory O'Shea (James McAvoy), who is set on bucking the system.

Apparently Rory is the first person to understand Michael's CP-affected speech in years, and they quickly become friends. Rory has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and has one aim in life: to get out of residential care fast. However, his applications for independent living funding have been repeatedly refused on the grounds of irresponsibility.

Rory inspires Michael to apply for a grant, which he is awarded. Michael then uses part of his money to employ Rory as his speech facilitator so that they can leave Carrigmore together.
Rory and Siobhan (played by Romola Garai)
After finding somewhere to live, they recruit the inexperienced and beautiful Siobhan (Romola Garai) as their personal assistant - a choice that predictably ends in heartache for everyone involved.

Like My Left Foot, which I loved, Inside I'm Dancing is set in Ireland and one of the leads has CP. That is where any similarity ends (apart from the appearance of Brenda Fricker in both films).
Brenda Fricker as Eileen
Once again, non-disabled actors play characters with disabilities. The only exception is Donal Toolan in a minor speaking role as a member of the Independent Living award panel. The casting director and co-producer claim to have conducted a wide and fruitless search in Ireland and the UK for actors with disabilities with the talent and emotional range required.

Daniel Day Lewis I forgive, because in spite of the things I don't like about his portrayal, it is a powerful and emotional performance. However, Steve Robertson's depiction of CP I found superficial and inaccurate.

Working Title expects these performances to launch both James McAvoy and Steve Robertson into the mainstream and to secure Oscar nominations. I pray that they're wrong.

In the words of director Damien O'Donnell, "90% of getting the film right is the casting". I completely agree. And if they had really wanted to make a film with a "moving and uplifting story, which challenges our preconceptions on every level" (producer Juanita Wilson), surely a great start would have been to use disabled actors?
Siobhan and Michael
According to the director, when a rough-cut of the film was screened to activists and leaders in the Irish Disability Rights Movement their reaction was very positive. They said it was an original and positive portrayal of people with disabilities and hoped it would get a broad cinema release. Maybe I just expect too much.

All of this leads me to wonder what exactly Working Title is hoping to achieve with this film. Do they really think this is a great movie capable of winning Oscars? Why are they spending £1.5m promoting a film without any recognisable stars? The only reasonable explanation is that they think it's press worthy. A controversial and difficult subject that people will write about. Whether the press is good or bad doesn't matter.

I suspect that what is really at stake is the need to boost the profile of WT2 - the low budget arm of Working Title that made the film - casting them as a producer that does 'difficult' and 'edgy'. It is a lunge at grabbing headlines and controversy, no matter how good the film is.

They know too well that it is stars who sell films. In this case I am afraid that the star is WT2 itself, which has little to do with disability or Dancing Inside.

Inside I'm Dancing is released in UK cinemas on Friday 15 October.
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    • 1. At 02:10am on 12 Jul 2009, agreeny wrote:

      I watched 'I'm Dancing Inside' for the first time tonight & I thought it was thought provoking & wonderful, I don't know what Clare Fisher was expecting but for me it told it's own story. It didn't bother me that it used actors because they are trained to do their job & they did it well. Don't understand Ms Fishers complaint that the acting was bad. I got it & now have more understanding of people with disabilities. Surely that's the point.

      Regards agreeny

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