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New film from Shift.MS exposes the hidden symptoms of MS

New Pathways editor, Sarah-Jane Lampe, reviews Shift.MS's latest film 'Hidden'

On the 15 July I had the pleasure of attending the preview of Shift.MS’s latest multiple sclerosis (MS) film, Hidden. I knew from the title that it was going to focus on the hidden symptoms of MS and I wondered with intrigue how that might be portrayed. I will admit that I watched the trailer for the film before attending the premiere and was a little shocked by how scary it appeared to be, but I went with an open mind and was not disappointed.

The film itself tells the story of a young woman called Keisha, played by actress Saskia Horton, who is unknowingly experiencing the hidden symptoms of MS. Told by her doctor that her symptoms are nothing to worry about, she goes about her daily life and we, the audience, see the different symptoms she is experiencing. The symptoms are illustrated very cleverly with the use of effects, doppelgangers and the popularised street dance called krumping. This form of dancing is characterised by free, expressive, exaggerated, and highly energetic movement, perfectly suited to what was set to be a battle with MS.

The character lashes out at her doppelganger expressing frustration and anger through the selected method of dance. We see her struggle with fatigue and coordination issues, such as opening a door or pushing a button in a lift, tasks that what would seem simple to the outside world.

It is only when the young son of another character already diagnosed with MS called Kirstie, played by Amber Doyle, notices Keisha struggling and asks his mum to speak with her. It is only then that Keisha begins to understand what is happening to her and is able to tame her doppelganger. 

The film was funded by pharmaceutical company Roche and it was obvious from the outset that the production team had spent a lot of time, money and effort on it. The production has an artistic feel and is very slick.

The film’s director, Dan Henshaw had come up with the concept for the film, which originally had a much more gothic feel than the finished product. I was actually pleased about this when I heard because throughout history disability has been portrayed quite negatively with that stereotypical gothic look and feel. I think Shift.MS has Cathy John, a script consultant, who was involved in the process and happens to have MS, to thank for the softening of the original idea. It came across well in the final edit.

Once I’d seen the film, the trailer no longer seemed scary and I felt like I understood the reasons behind its shock and awe approach. The story of Keisha and her undiagnosed symptoms is, unfortunately, a common one and many people will relate to her. My only criticism is that I wanted to see more of Keisha living well with MS and I wasn’t very sure how she managed to tame her MS doppelganger. Making sense of what is happening and understanding your symptoms is one of the first steps, but did she go back to her GP, did she take a disease modifying drug, did she try a complementary therapy? How did she ‘tame the beast’?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so feel free to email me at newpathways@ms-uk.org