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by James MacGregor | September 28th, 2001

Baby Blues

Owen Carey Jones’s feature debut Baby Blues is deceptive. Ordinary people leading apparently ordinary lives, but that soon changes. One character undergoes an unexpected, profound and deeply disturbing transformation, triggering equally unexpected changes in everyone around her. The catalyst for this is a complete innocent — her newborn baby.

This is not post-natal depression, the stuff of daytime TV, but something worse, much worse.

Puerperal psychosis results in Julie (Nicky Talacko) being committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment that includes convulsive electro therapy. This is an archaic; some might say barbaric form of treatment that should have disappeared with Victorian lunatic asylums. Unfortunately for the patient, it appears to work. In the absence of something better, it may still be used. And it is.

Thus we see Julie’s brain, by means of electrodes, being jolted back from a psychotic hell, reviving sufficiently to resist repetition of the awful therapy. We then get to observe the hopelessness, helplessness and distress of a sick woman being dragged to a treatment room she does not want to re-enter. Animals going to slaughter receive more humane and less stressful treatment than this.

Meanwhile, confused husband Brian (Stuart Packer) struggles to try and understand what has happened to his wife, keeping home and job together while feeding and changing their daughter, whom Julie can hardly remember. Julie and Brian’s lives are fractured by the illness and forever altered. Distress propels Brian into temptation and temporarily into the arms of workmate Sarah (Nichola Dixon). Meanwhile, disturbed and confused Julie appears to have switched her affections in the direction of another inmate of the hospital. A very contrite Brian, having ended his affair, appears to have lost Julie completely, particularly when after deciding she has had enough treatment; Julie runs away from the hospital.

Nicky Talacko’s portrayal of Julie is disturbing to watch. This is not a remote, Ophelia-like descent into madness, but here and now, surrounded by the comforts of modern life. The voice of madness is heard clearly, coming from a tape recorder. It is the voice of Julie herself, spouting gibberish from the fevered world her brain resides in, but disturbingly real gibberish.

Stuart Packer’s Brian is a sound, troubled portrayal, bringing his character’s problems and his confusions, to light. The chemistry that binds Brian to Julie is more difficult to show when it is in the process of coming apart. Just as motivation is more difficult to portray than action, grief is a more subtle creature than angst. This places a heavy burden on Packer, but we stay in tune with him throughout.

Baby Blues is a well-crafted script and works well as a drama, shot from the perspective of a voyeur. It did leave me longing for a few ultra close-ups to, in the visual sense, take me inside people’s emotions and feelings, but keeping clear of that may be a casualty of the director being very close to the script. He not only wrote this screenplay, but once lived most of it… Baby Blues is substantially based on personal experience. Understandably, that may have been a brake on direction.

Brian and Julie are a Christian couple. While their faith is tested, they are reunited and reconciled spiritually, as well as personally. These things are always matters of personal taste, but I found the Christianity in the film more overblanket than bedrock. Not suffocating, but I was left wondering had I been hearing the word about puerperal psychosis, or the other one with the capital "W"?

Nevertheless, Baby Blues comes across strongly as a very human story, an engaging drama and one that provokes much thought. It is a portrayal that has engaged the attention of the national organisation Action On Puerperal Psychosis. They want to make use of the film to introduce a national campaign to help those who suffer from this condition. All power to them and credit to Owen Carey Jones, who with this debut feature, brought that about.

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Beginners Luck
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The Pledge
The Center of the World
The Man Who Wasn't There
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Mike Bassett:England Manager
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Crime and Punishment in Suburbia

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Requiem For A Dream

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There's Only One Jimmy Grimble
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The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (2nd Edition)
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Imagining Reality - the Faber Book of Documentary
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American Beauty


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