This remarkable and well-measured documentary re-counts the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic as it spread throughout the UK. It’s the story of how the British handled the crisis of what was initially perceived as ‘the American disease in a very characteristically British manner. It is certainly not intended to be a comparison with how the rest of the world coped, but in hindsight the film makes us appreciate that in Norman Fowler we actually had a Government Minister who cared enough to persuade his Conservative colleagues (led by Thatcher) to take action that made an actual difference.
The film by Ben Lord and Steve Keeble relies on the highly personal stories from a handful of long-term survivors living with AIDS, most of whom are still in shock that, unlike most of their friends, they are still here. It’s heart wrenching hearing them talk of those very early dark days when Doctors struggled to learn anything about the Virus. There were no medications or treatments and diagnosis meant death, and usually a painful one at that.
Many like the actor/activist Jonathan Blake have lived with the virus for over 30 years now, but can recount every single detail of the initial traumas as if they were yesterday.
When Terry Higgins one of the first gay men to die of this unknown disease, a group of his friends aware that he was not an isolated case, formed a Trust in his name to initially help educate the gay community about safe sex. We know now that it went only to become a national organization that so successfully covered the AIDS pandemic as both a support group and a centre of excellence. However what the documentary shows is the lesser known facts of how the tireless work of people like Martyn Butler, one of the co-founders was the reason for its success in both saving and helping so many lives.
London eventually had its own ACT UP organization but their fight was different than those in NY and SF. The UK has nationalised medical system under which all drugs were free , and that fact alone not alone took that pressure of people diagnosed, but as toxic as many of the medications were, they did save some lives.
Several of the interviewees in the film were talking out about their health status in public for the very first time. Even though all the vehement hatred stirred up by a fear-mongering homophobic media has disappeared, it’s still difficult to shake off some off the lingering stigma about being HIV+ or having the AIDS virus.
For those us who lived through this period , the film makes for painful viewing as it stirs up so many profound memories that are never far away in our minds. It would be good if we could perceive this more as a celebration for the many lives we have lost, but that is still a tough call for so many.
After 82 does our community a great service in making this record of one the worst times ever in LGBTQ history , and leaves us with the desperate hope that Martyn Butler’s fears that it could all happen again, are totally wrong.
Now available on Streaming Platforms for details check https://www.after82movie.com