By Robbie Walsh
The Letters is a powerful film, full of drama and emotion. It depicts how cancer affects people both physically and emotionally and raises awareness about the CervicalCheck cancer scandal and the consequences it had on people’s lives.
The story of this film is set against the backdrop of the CervicalCheck cancer scandal, which involved multiple women in the Republic of Ireland pressing charges against the Health Service Executive, after they were given false smear tests results for cervical cancer.
The three unfortunate women here are Cliona (Carroll), Sam (Murray) and Mary (Yeates). Cliona is single, organized and career-oriented. Sam is a single mother raising four children and has serious money trouble and debts. Mary takes care of her mother Bridgette (Russell), who has Alzheimer’s disease. After their lives and situations are introduced, the three of them receive a letter that announces the devastating news regarding their illness. From there, the audience observes them as they proceed to disintegrate, becoming weak and sick.
This movie contains insights into some of the biggest hardships of life: debts, disfunctional family, loneliness, terminal illness and people paying the price for the errors of others. Some protagonists are already living hard lives and it is very sad when they find out that they have cancer. However, the joys of life are also present here, such as love and the act of caring for others, creating moments of tenderness.
Basically, the narrative consists of three separate stories that are about three quite different but have one crucial thing in common: cancer. Their dissimilar lives become alike with the arrival of the letters about their diagnosis. Through effective use of parallel editing, the film moves between the three of them, showing their reactions and how they each go through their own suffering.
The acting is brilliant, with Murray, Yeates and Carroll all delivering strong and convincing performances as individuals who have cancer.
The feature utilizes mainly black-and-white cinematography, providing a downbeat feeling. There are sequences that are in colour, and these are scenes that move away from reality, eventually appearing like dreams. The colour sequences look wonderful and the terrific music that accompanies them makes them even better.
Each of the three women is introduced with a title card and the film includes title cards with texts. One rather heart-rending sequence with a black screen and text involves the heartbreaking words of a woman who was a victim of a false smear test. Although she is not seen, her voice and words are enough to move the audience.
“The Letters” will screen from the 29th of October in selected cinemas, Odeon (Charlestown) Omni-PLex (Rathmines Dublin, Limerick, Cork) Eye Cinema (Galway) Movies@ (Swords, Dundrum).