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The More You Ignore Me review: a miscast Sheridan Smith derails Jo Brand's bittersweet mental health comedy

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 05/07/2018 By Robbie Collin, Film Critic

Star Rating: 3 stars

Dir: Keith English; Starring: Ella Hunt, Sheridan Smith, Mark Addy, Sally Phillips, Jo Brand, Sheila Hancock. 15 cert, 99 mins.

Writing mental illness is a minefield, acting it another. The More You Ignore Me manages to pick its way through only the first of these unscathed. This adaptation of Jo Brand’s 1980s-set novel, directed by feature first-timer Keith English, spins an appealing, bittersweetly funny tale of a Morrissey -mad teenage girl whose life is regularly derailed by her mother’s worsening mental state.

a person lying on a bed © Provided by The Telegraph

But oddly, it does so in spite of the mother character herself, who is called Gina, is played by Sheridan Smith, and regrettably doesn’t ring true for a moment. 

The fault doesn’t lie with Smith’s performance so much as her very presence – or rather, the decision to cast a born lead actress in a quirky character role, then try to bridge the gap with bottom padding, greasepaint and a matted crazy-woman wig.

Gina is suffering from schizophrenia brought on by postpartum psychosis, a condition which, here anyway, manifests in big, overtly loopy gestures such as ranting at the weatherman, chasing visitors from the family’s tumbledown homestead, and patrolling the surrounding Hertfordshire countryside on a bright red space hopper. 

This would be tough stuff for any actor to sell, even though Brand’s self-adapted script frames it with a humour and candour that no doubt stems from its writer’s years of experience as a psychiatric nurse. But the obvious phoniness of Smith’s costume and make-up gives Gina a pantomime broadness that feels awkwardly at odds with the sensitivity and downbeat wit of the other leads. It’s like watching a Viz cartoon run rampant on a Shane Meadows set.

Yet even so, thing hang together, thanks in no small part to those other cast members – and particularly 20-year-old Ella Hunt as Gina’s daughter Alice, from whose long-suffering perspective the film plays out. Though Hunt has popped up recently in Intruders, Robot Overlords and the Cold Feet revival, her performance here has the air of a real you-saw-her-here-first moment.

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She stands out even alongside such hardy British comic troupers as Mark Addy, who plays Alice’s effectively single father, and Sally Phillips as Gina’s doctor – and further down the card, Ricky Tomlinson, Sheila Hancock and Brand herself, who makes an extended cameo as the village newsagent. 

Hunt and Addy both capture the self-abnegating grind of managing a close family member’s declining mental health, and when Alice’s own hopes take a back seat to her mother’s demands, not least during two abortive trips to Smiths gigs, you feel exasperation kicking in your gut.

The More You Ignore Me might feel too mannered, perhaps even too wacky in spite of itself to fully function as a coming-of-age story. But as a close-up portrait of family carers, at least, it feels skeweringly accurate.

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