Third Star is an independent film directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Hattie Dalton, which follows James (Benedict Cumberbatch), a terminally ill man in his late twenties, on a final road trip to Barafundle Bay with his three best friends. Third Star addresses the issue of choice and control at the end of life with honesty and humour, and I believe it genuinely adds something to the ongoing debate about whether and how we should be afforded more choice and control in our own deaths.
It is rare for a film that explores such moving and challenging issues to also be so enjoyable to watch and ultimately uplifting, and I think this is why the film feels honest. When the writer (and producer), Vaughan Sivell first came to see us he said that film wasn’t about cancer or dying, but about friendship and choice, and that’s where the reality comes from. Under the current law with a lack of safeguarded assisted dying at the end of life, we can’t turn to our healthcare team for support or advice – we have to turn to friends and family and there are no upfront safeguards. This is a huge problem for people facing the end of their lives now, but hopefully it won’t be for much longer. The law must and ultimately will change.
Admittedly the story of assisted dying, as we would like to see it in the UK, would probably not make for a great film. I’m not sure if anyone would connect with a film that tracks James being assessed by two doctors for terminal diagnosis and mental capacity, followed by a cooling off period and then, after the collection of a prescription for life-ending medication, following his decision as to whether to take the medication if his suffering becomes unbearable for him. Doesn’t sound like the most thrilling or entertaining of films, I’ll admit, but I look forward to a time when that is the reality for those who want choice and control at the end of life, like Third Star’s protagonist James; meaning the Vaughan Sivells of this world have to inject a great deal of imagination and incredulity when creating an historical view of how poor end-of-life choice once was in 2011.
Third Star is available on DVD from today, and Western Edge Pictures have kindly agreed to donate a proportion of the profits from sale of the DVD to Dignity in Dying’s campaign.