TV Review: ‘Locked In: Breaking the Silence’ Is A Moving Self-Reflection

Imagine waking up one day to find out you have a debilitating illness no one knows how to treat or cure. Imagine living with the fear that this could have a detrimental impact upon your whole life. Imagine being completely paralysed.

Due for release on BBC Four on 30 November 2020, Locked In: Breaking the Silence is a one hour and fifteen minute-long biographical documentary, recounting the struggles of famous director Xavier Alford as he suffers from Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Xavier Alford is an award-winning director known for his work directing Drugsland and Stacey Dooley in the USA. Nominated for numerous BAFTAs, Alford is no stranger to the film world. Ten years ago, however, he was unfortunately diagnosed with the rare and mysterious illness known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an extremely rare and potentially life-threatening ailment that affects the nerves. Mainly affecting the hands, feet, and limbs, it can cause numbness, pain, and weakness. Whilst this illness can be treated and sufferers have been known to make a full recovery, others are not so lucky. After ten long years of silencing his own illness, Xavier Alford has finally decided to tell his story the only way he knows how – through film.

Directed and produced himself, this documentary follows the life of Alford, exploring the relationships he forms with fellow sufferers as he searches for answers to his own suffering. On meeting one patient who is close to death, Xavier Alford finally becomes aware of the seriousness of his condition and how his life has now changed forever. This film documents the progress Alford made by accepting his illness, then learning to live with it and share this experience with those closest to him. This documentary pulls on some heartstrings by providing a moving account of trauma and pain and how one small thing can change a life forever.

“In a time when much of the world is experiencing lockdown, Locked In offers, with unflinching positivity, a fresh perspective on coping mechanisms and the recovery from virus-related diseases.”

After eighteen years of producing and directing films and documentaries, the sudden realisation that his career was about to change dramatically came as a great shock to this well-known figure. Completely paralysed, Alford had to come to terms with being trapped within his own body whilst his mind still wandered, unrestrained by the chains of paralysis. Confident and celebrated as a famous director and producer, the creation of such a documentary has allowed Xavier Alford the escapism needed to truly tell his story. Whilst this documentary is certainly not for the faint-hearted, it is certainly worth the seventy-five minutes of pure emotion.

Locked In: Breaking the Silence provides a platform for rare and underrepresented diseases to gain greater public recognition, as well as providing an opportunity to educate others on such a disease. As many of us are becoming increasingly agitated under lockdown, locked up in our homes staring at the same four walls day in day out, it really brings home the struggles faced by many with chronic illnesses. In a time when much of the world is experiencing lockdown, Locked In offers, with unflinching positivity, a fresh perspective on coping mechanisms and the recovery from virus-related diseases.

After ten years of battling his illness in silence, Xavier Alford has finally decided to share his story. Producing and airing a highly sensitive autobiography detailing the intricacies of such a rare disease is admirable; delving into the recesses of his own daily struggles is something few celebrated directors have yet to discover. Whilst this documentary does not end with the happily ever after that we see in fairytales and cheesy Hollywood romances, it does deal with the important things in life – relationships.

Locked In: Breaking the Silence is an intimate, personal, and surprisingly life-affirming story that will have its audience on the edge of their seats.

Locked In: Breaking the Silence was made with the support of the BFI Doc Society Fund and is available here.

Words by Madeleine Raine

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