Jack Murphy looks at the quietly powerful, Screen Ireland supported documentary, Much Ado About Dying.

The phrase “all the world’s a stage” may have been around since Shakespearean times, but rarely has it been taken on board as intently as by David,  the star of Simon Chambers’ new documentary, Much Ado About Dying.

In this highly personal piece, the filmmaker is residing in Delhi preparing to film a new documentary about the Indian city’s car usage—aptly titled Carmageddon. However a series of calls from his uncle David prompt him to come back home to London. David thinks he might be dying. Abandoning Carmageddon, Chambers sets out to record the final years of David’s life while caring for him, making for a thoroughly engrossing, heartfelt, and surprisingly funny little documentary in the process.

It becomes evident early on that David is something of a “character”- the word ‘eccentric’ might not even be strong enough in this case. He’s often found lounging in his living room dancing while listening to opera; his house is chock-full of random artefacts gathered over his long life; he keeps mice out of the house by covering surfaces in toothpaste; he buys four of everything (because three is not enough but six or seven is “too much”). David is an actor, a self-proclaimed Shakespeare lover, and much like the aforementioned saying, this world is his stage. He narrates the most mundane aspects of his life down to the finest detail, performing to anyone within ear shot. But there was one role that David never got the chance to play in his career—King Lear—and over the course of the documentary, he begins to see parallels between his own life and the title character of the Shakespearean tragedy.

What’s refreshing is that the film’s focus does not fall strictly on David’s life. From the beginning of the film, we follow Chambers on this journey; undertaking a task that he has never had to undertake before. Chambers documents not just his Uncle’s life, but his own return to London with such honesty, showcasing the many ups and downs of caring for his elderly uncle. This personal touch is what really sets Much Ado About Dying apart; the filmmaker refuses to take a backseat, becoming so much more than just the voice behind the camera.

When the focus shifts to David, however, it yields something special. He seems to always have a story to tell, whether about his career as an actor or the love he has for his neighbours, David practically lights up the screen. And then literally at one point, when his apartment catches fire. But his brief stories about growing up gay, and being closeted for 62 years, were the most unexpected. To hear from the older LGBTQ+ generation is not common, highlighting a usually unrepresented generation in a beautiful, poignant manner.

But despite the theatricality of the doc’s focus, there’s a sincerity to the final project that makes it hard to not become enamoured with. Despite tackling such tough themes, Chambers avoids the melancholic, while still retaining a level of emotion that consistently permeates the 84-minute runtime. Irish composer Irene Buckley’s musical score compliments David’s unconventional personality wonderfully and is one of the main ways this level of emotion is created; only melancholic when it needs to be.

For all it has to say about death, and how different people look at it, it’s in the adoration for the joys of being alive where Much Ado About Dying really soars. It’s not going to reinvent the wheel in any way, but it’s hard to ignore the passion radiating from the screen at all times, making this documnetary one that should not be overlooked.

Much Ado About Dying is in cinemas from 10th May 2024. 

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