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Accurate film on epilepsy

Posted on 17/12/2014
Epilepsy film released

The production team on the critically acclaimed film Electricity that is currently released in cinemas around the UK and Ireland conferred with Dr Gonzalo Alarcon of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) to accurately portray the experiences of a young woman with epilepsy.

Dr Gonzalo Alarcon is Reader in Clinical Neurophysiology at IoPPN and was consulted to make sure the epileptic experiences that the lead character goes through were scientifically accurate. The story is of a young woman with epilepsy called Lily who, after her mother dies, leaves their home on the Northeast coast to find her estranged brother in London. The audience sees the world through Lily’s eyes as her epilepsy brings on visual distortions and disturbing visions.

“The visual hallucinations needed to be carefully researched so that we didn’t portray something inaccurate,” said Electricity director Bryn Higgins. “We were helped enormously by the support of our medical consultant, Dr Gonzalo Alarcon, one of Europe’s leading experts in epilepsy. Dr Alarcon helped us at scripting, rehearsing and editing stages and we’re deeply indebted to him. He is a fantastic communicator, too, very frank and open about the nature of epilepsy and it was a great pleasure to be in his company. Dr Alarcon explained the limitations of Lily’s visual hallucinations and helped us find the right balance between our storytelling needs and the medical truth.”

Epilepsy is often prompted by a scar or lesion on the brain and the position of the lesion determines what form the epilepsy takes. In the case of Lily, the scar was to the lateral temporal lobe region on her left side of the brain - just above and behind her left ear - and this has been known to cause visual, auditory and olfactory hallucinations. Other characteristics are intense itching sensations and a strong sense of déjà vu. Lily experienced only some of these during the film. 

“It was a great pleasure to provide medical advice to the production team of Electricity,” said Dr Alarcon. “Reading the original script was pleasant, interesting and at times shocking, even to someone familiar with epilepsy and with the assessment of epileptic seizures. The intimate details on the interplay between epilepsy and Lily’s private life disclosed a novel aspect of epilepsy that went beyond my professional practice. Very quickly the actress playing Lily, Agyness Deyn, learned to act the different seizure types, which I think shows particularly well in the film. 

“It all came alive when I saw the unreleased version of the film, which multiplied the vivacity and colour of the script.  I think Electricity will be key in raising public awareness and demystify epilepsy, a very common condition that is still largely unknown to the public and undeservedly stigmatised in the 21st century.” 

The film was the first co-produced feature film from the Wellcome Trust who recognised it as an opportunity to communicate the serious condition of epilepsy to a wider audience without being dry or didactic. They also wanted to counter negative perceptions of epilepsy that have arisen from its one-sided representation in popular culture. The Epilepsy Society has done extensive research that shows how the condition is negatively stereotyped in film and they, along with Dr Alarcon, advised on the film. 

It was a hit at the recent London film festival Total Film writing that it was “Boldly styled. Boldly acted. Joltingly powerful” and The Guardian calling it "a breath-taking assault on the senses". Based on the novel by Ray Robinson and made by Soda Pictures, it’s at cinemas including The Brixton Ritzy, Vue Stratford East, Curzon Soho and Barbican as well as the Manchester Cornerhouse and the Dublin Irish Film Institute. The specially produced immersive trailer can be viewed by clicking this link.

For further information contact Tom Bragg, Press Officer at IoPPN, King’s College London, on +44(0)2078485377 or email ioppn-pr@kcl.ac.uk

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