A gripping noire tale

Paul Moloney watches Innocence, a film by Ben Reid.

Innocence is a gripping noire tale: convincingly acted, adroitly plotted. It is still all too rare to see a central character with Down Syndrome in a drama; even rarer to see them portrayed other than as a hapless narrative prop, comic foil, or unmitigated victim. Without preachiness, this film acknowledges that people with intellectual disabilities can manifest personal depths and agency that belie their medicalised label. It pays homage to the reality that the IQ scores definitive of the condition can speak with less authority than might be supposed about someone’s ability to care about and for others, to make and keep friendships, and to both thrive within and safely navigate their social and geographical neighbourhood. If mendacity as self-defence is sometimes the other side of this coin, then Innocence succeeds in portraying people with learning disabilities as all too fully human. 

The one weakness of this film lies in its depiction of the current world of residential and social care in the UK. With an atmosphere reminiscent of a more openly coercive and institutionalized era, as in films like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ – and with care sector employers, employees and police officers skating over basic legal and procedural guidelines without pause – Innocence doesn’t quite convince. It therefore does not recommend itself as a training aid for those who work in the field, nor as the basis for an educational or advocacy themed discussion with adults with learning disabilities – many of whom, owing to their traumatic personal histories, would need a lot of preparation and support before they could make an informed decision as to whether or not to view.  

Films that feature disabled characters habitually see the topic of disability through the eyes of the protagonists – as an individual travail, sometimes as triumph, and Innocence is no exception. This is understandable, since drama is entertainment above all. And yet, in this field, there is more need than ever for a production that seeks to link personal struggle and distress to a broader social, political and cultural story. A tall order for any film maker, but one that would be well worth the attempt. 

- Paul Moloney is a Counselling Psychologist, Shropshire and Telford Adult Learning Disabilities Team. Email:  [email protected]

Read more about his work.

- Find out more about the film.

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