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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The Outcast

Introduction

The Outcast on DVDThe Outcast, directed by Iain Softley, is a two-part BBC Drama, which screened on terrestrial UK TV in July 2015. It is based on a novel by Sadie Jones, who also wrote the screenplay about the coming of age of a boy called Lewis, living in the Surrey commuter belt of the 1940s and 1950s, who suffers the tragic early loss of his mother. The story is told in two parts, the first episode starts with Lewis aged ten, played by Finn Elliot, and the second when he is nineteen, played by George MacKay. It focuses on Lewis’ immediate relationships with his family as well as with his childhood peers and the local community as he tries to make sense of his overwhelming loss. Both of the central performances by Eliot and MacKay are extremely accomplished. MacKay, in particular, succeeds in conveying a damaged adolescent vulnerability that makes the drama so watchable and very valuable as a learning opportunity.

The Drama

The Outcast begins with Lewis, aged ten, living happily with his mother Elizabeth in a glorious rural setting whilst his father, Gilbert, is away fighting in the war. Once reunited with his father Lewis struggles with the lack of warmth in their relationship. He is also aware of the attempts his mother makes to rebuild their family after the separation brought about by the war. Unfortunately a tragedy destroys any hope of this when Elizabeth, having drunk some gin, accidentally drowns when having a picnic by the river with Lewis. He tries but fails to rescue her. His father cannot understand Lewis’ inability to give an account of events and the son feels blamed in some way for his mother’s death. His father soon marries again and Lewis struggles to cope with his stepmother, Alice, who wants to replace Elizabeth and to heal him. But she struggles in her relationship with her new husband as well as with Lewis and begins to drink increasing amounts of alcohol. As Lewis ages he becomes increasingly unhappy. Tormented by flashbacks of the accident, he is teased and bullied by peers about his loss and finds it difficult to cope with his emergent sexual feelings. These stresses cause him to feel sad, hopeless and isolated, the outcast of the title. Along with his increasing anger, these feelings become unbearable until he finds some relief from them by cutting his arm, causing his immediate family much dismay. Outside of the home Lewis acts out his anger in a serious and very damaging way that results in a prison sentence. The second episode of the drama centres on the period immediately after being released from prison when he tries to rebuild his life and relationships.

The secondary characters, in the form of Gilbert’s boss Dickie and his family who live nearby, also have an important contribution to make to the story, as Lewis uncovers the hidden physical abuse of Kit, Dickie’s youngest daughter, by her father. She is the one friend that Lewis retains from early childhood and is the only person who remains sympathetic to him throughout all of his difficult times. Their bond becomes more understandable as we become aware that she too is suffering the on-going trauma of physical abuse by her father and Lewis is the only person willing to fight to reveal it.

Relevance to the Field of Mental Health

This two-part drama offers an excellent platform for discussion and learning about the subject of deliberate self-harm in adolescence. Set in the 1940s and 1950s, when the style of parenting in the UK was such that children were expected to be ‘seen but not heard’, the absence of an emotionally sensitive therapeutic intervention after Lewis’ traumatic loss is particularly well captured. However, the presentation of his emotional suffering and its causes are universal and can be transported into the present day as the following useful articles demonstrate. The first is called Self-harm in adolescents by Alison Wood (Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Oct 2009, 15 (6) 434-441), available in full, and the second article called Young people who cut themselves: can understanding the reasons guide the treatment? by Barry Wright, Naomi Hooke, Stephan Neupert, Chan Nyein, Suzy Ker (Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Nov 2013, 19 (6) 446-456), available in abstract.

The other storyline concerning the hidden physical abuse of Kit by her father, which occurs within a middle-class, well-off family also provides an excellent opportunity to discuss how such cases can be detected and managed. It would also allow discussion about the differences and similarities in societal attitudes to this issue between the 1950s and the present time given that children are now encouraged to report their experiences to a service such as ChildLine.

  • More information about The Outcast can be found at the programme’s website, including some clips.
  • The Outcast is available to watch on BBC iPlayer in the UK (for the next week) and can also be purchased on DVD at amazon.co.uk.
  • Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida.

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.