Five years ago, I wrote a review on this blog about a book called Malcolm is a Little Unwell by the veteran journalist Malcolm Brabant.
The book tracked Malcolm’s descent into psychotic madness as a result of a yellow fever vaccination and vividly described a hellish journey that had him believing that he was, in no particular order, Jesus, Satan and Winston Churchill.
It is a fine book and, having been published online, really does deserve a physical publication.
The good news is that Malcolm has fully recovered from his two-year absence, winning the prestigious Peabody Award in 2016 for his reporting of the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece. And he has also completed a mesmerising documentary about his illness, like the book titled Malcolm is a Little Unwell.
If the book was harrowing in its descriptions then the film goes to another level. As a vocation journalist, it was entirely natural for Malcolm to record himself during his illness. His wife Trine Villemann is also a journalist and had no qualms about keeping the camera on, even when it is turned on her own snotty nose, bloodshot eyes and raw lips, sick with worry for the sanity and life of her husband.
“I don’t know if he will survive this,” she whimpers in chilling fashion. “I don’t know if I want him to survive because he is suffering so much.”
Her face when Malcolm announces that their son Lukas is the Messiah and that she is the mother of the Messiah is a picture of grief and hopelessness.
Trine, though, reveals herself to be a woman of immense strength and love as she drags Malcolm back from the brink of suicide to good health.
“Through sheer will power, she saved me,” Brabant admits.
There are moments that could pass for Monty Python in the film as Malcolm who, in good health has a barrel-chested boombox of a voice, declares to his neighbours from the balcony of his Greek apartment about his realisation that he is in fact Jesus and how the RAF are going to come and rescue him.
“Did you see the meteorite?” he asks.
On another occasion he turns seriously to camera to utter the line: “I am not the Messiah, I am the wise man.”
You want to laugh and shout at the screen that, in fact, he is just a “very naughty boy” but you stop because you remember that this is real life. This is a man fighting for his sanity and his survival. It really isn’t very funny at all.
The film opens with Malcolm on a boat working on a story about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, looking back on his battle for sanity. On April 15, 2011, while living in Athens, he had gone to get a jab for yellow fever that he needed to travel to Ivory Coast to shoot a couple of films for UNICEF. The reaction was immediate and severe as it effectively fried his brain.
We meet doctors and specialists, we see Malcolm in and out of hospital, fighting demons and scaring the living daylights out of Trine and their young son Lukas.
The knock-on effect of such an illness for a freelance journalist is even more severe. There is no such thing as sickness pay or state benefits; the family purse is stretched on all fronts.
The Brabants leave Athens and move to a cramped, pokey apartment in a seedy part of Copenhagen where at least they had Trine’s family for support and a welfare system that would help them.
“Darkness consumed me,” says Malcolm who was finally admitted to a psychiatric ward where he came close to killing himself and had to undergo electro-convulsive therapy.
“My happy husband has been turned into a psychotic wreck,” says Trine.
The film takes us through the therapy and through Malcolm’s recovery, a moment marked by the triumph of the Peabody Award.
These days, the Brabants are based in England and Malcolm is back to his ebullient best. But the scars remain, not least in their son Lukas who still suffers from the fear of witnessing his father’s tangle with the demons.
Malcolm is a Little Unwell is a raw documentary. It picks at the nerves and in remarkably candid fashion shows a deeply ugly journey.
It is just a pity that, in spite of a number of requests from the Brabants, the makers of the yellow fever vaccine Sanofi Pasteur declined to contribute. It seems they are in total denial about the side effects of their vaccine.
“Yellow fever vaccine saves lives but sometimes it harms, even kills, people,” says Trine, words that echo loudly following the death in January 2019 of the top cancer scientist Martin Gore died following a yellow fever vaccine.
Sanofi-Pasteur might want to man up a little bit and accept that they need to do something about the vaccine. Or would that be too close to admitting responsibility?
©Barney Spender 2019
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