Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
"The Wedding Gift" tells the story of a woman whose life has been made an unrelenting misery because of a disease the doctors are not really sure she has. She is so weak she can hardly walk. Her hands coil into claws, and must be straightened by a brace. She has pain throughout her body. The British health service shuttles her from one specialist to another, never telling her anything, never letting her see her file, until finally a friendly physician confides that the diagnosis is "hysteria." It is not hysteria at all, but a combination of nervous system disorders and a version of chronic fatigue syndrome. But at the time the story occurs, those conditions were not familiar, and the movie is based on a true story, we're told, that inspired two books that helped make them better known. Like "Lorenzo's Oil" and "Shadowlands," this is a story of great love faced by deadly disease. But this movie is not as uplifting as the first nor as comforting as the second: it's more painfully bittersweet. The heroine's name is Diana Longden (Julie Walters). Her husband is Deric (Jim Broadbent). That they love one another is evident from the first scenes.
He has let his small garment manufacturing business slip into disarray while he spends more and more time with her, acting as nurse, therapist and husband. They are both essentially jolly people, and they joke a lot, finding morbid humor even in some of the more harrowing episodes of the disease. We begin to share their anger at doctors who have written her off as a case they cannot identify or cure, and thus have lost interest in.
Deric's hobby, in his few spare moments, is writing short stories; one has just been rejected by "Women's Own." His wife insists he go to a literary luncheon one day, and he finds himself seated next to Aileen Armitage (Sian Thomas). "I'm the novelist," she says. "No - you're the bloody great novelist," he says. She is nearly blind. "I can see blobs," she says. His face looks like a nice blob to her.
They like each other immediately, and soon he finds himself making excuses to see her. But he is not cheating on his wife so much as finding a sympathetic ear; much of the time, he talks to Aileen about Diana. Soon Diana discovers their relationship - more in the tones of Deric's voice than in anything else - and she calls up Aileen and asks to meet her.