Deborah Ross

Darkness visible

This extraordinary film, a dramatisation of the audio diary Professor John Hull recorded as he slowly went blind, will make you well up

Perhaps you have sometimes wondered: how would you even begin to make a film about going blind and being blind and what that means? How, when the subject is so profoundly and inherently uncinematic? Or maybe it’s other thoughts that keep you awake at night — such as when we all finally receive our £350 million a week plus free puppy, where will we be expected to keep them? — but even if that’s so you’ll still find Notes on Blindness to be a singular achievement, as well as a truly wonderful one.

This is based on the audio recordings of John Hull, the academic, writer and theologian who was Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham. After years of sight problems — he suffered cataracts from the age of 13 followed by a series of retinal detachments — he finally went fully blind in 1983, as his second child was born. (He would have five children, in all.) For the next three years, he kept a diary of his interior world, as recorded on to clunky C90 cassette tapes, which formed the basis of his own book, Touching the Rock.

The film, put together and directed by Pete Middleton and James Spinney, is a dramatisation of those tapes, employing actors to lip-synch John’s thoughts and those of his family (whom you can sometimes hear on the cassettes) alongside stagings of his vivid dreams and his experiences of a world he can no longer see. (The sound design is so extraordinary I absolutely promise you that, if nothing else, you will never listen to rain in quite the same way again; never.)

Dan Renton Skinner plays John while Simone Kirby plays his wife, Marilyn, but the lip-synching is so naturalistic, as is the filming of their scenes — all grainy, dusty 1980s browns — it will never occur to you that they aren’t John and Marilyn.

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