Challenging documentary on alcohol abuse in the UK
Louis Theroux used to be such fun to watch. His documentaries offered quirky snapshots of American subcultures and British eccentrics (though When Louis Met … Jimmy Saville now has far darker undertones). But over the last ten years, his subject matter has become ever more serious, digging deeper into society's neglected corners, from paedophilia and the American penal system to dementia, autism and terminal illness.
Drinking to Oblivion mines similarly downbeat territory. It's an unflinching examination of alcoholism, the most common addiction in the UK. Theroux spends time at King’s College Hospital in London meeting the patients fighting their drink fuelled demons, killing themselves slowly, trapped in a self-destructive cycle of detox and retox. One of the participants says she is 'more afraid of stopping than dying'.
Theroux's low impact style encourages people to open up and tell their own story. Most of his interviewees are surprisingly eloquent, philosophical and self-aware of their own predicament. Drinking to Oblivion finds people at their lowest ebb but never feels exploitive. This is a reality in modern Britain, an important issue that many would prefer to ignore. And Theroux uncovers humanity in the darkest places, turning statistics into people.
Drinking to Oblivion also highlights the dedication of an understaffed, over worked NHS, and audiences will be impressed by the doctors and nurses and King's, who confront the problem with a mix of counselling and medical aid. It's frustrating, demanding work in difficult conditions, with patients often fighting against them both physically and emotionally.
Challenging, depressing and upsetting, it's hard to find the 'entertainment value' in a documentary of this kind. Instead, Theroux presents yet another moving, sensitive insight into a hidden aspect of society.
Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion, BBC Two, Sun 24 Apr, 9pm.