Paul Shanks took his own life in 2007. The incredibly powerful and personal BAFTA-nominated documentary Kingdom Of Us – directed by Lucy Cohen – details the Shanks family’s story of loss, bereavement and their journey through poignant childhood memories.
In this, Part 1 of CALM’s Kingdom Of Us long-read, we discuss the experience of making the film with Paul’s wife, Vikie, and their seven children Jamie, Kacie, twins Lorie and Mirie, Nikita, Osborn and Pippa.
CALM: How did you feel after watching ‘Kingdom Of Us’ for the first time and seeing some of your dad’s old footage?
LORIE: I remember the first piece of footage I saw of my dad was surreal. After the passing of any loved one, I think the concept of them being there, talking, laughing, just being, to suddenly no longer being able to hear their voice or look into their eyes is petrifying. For a while, this concept was haunting and painful. I thought I’d never feel sane. I expected the footage to be difficult to watch, however, I found it calming. Knowing that he lived and laughed and at one point was happy gave me a glimpse of peace and hope that one day I’ll feel inner contentment about my dad’s passing and only remember the happy, fun memories I had with him instead of the negative and dark ones.
PIPPA: For me, it was very enlightening. I was only six when he passed away so I don’t remember much of him. It may sound odd, but seeing a video where he’s moving, as opposed to a photo, gave me a sense of reassurance that he was real. He seems like a distant memory, someone I made up.
Throughout the film, we see my mental health deteriorating. It was hard to see it from an outsider’s point of view. It made me realise that how I was feeling when I saw it on film, was how my family were seeing it in real life. Watching it get worse. I must admit I cried a LOT when I saw the film. Seeing my dad laugh, seeing him cry. Watching him go from playing with us to seeing him with his head in his hands. I see a lot of myself in my dad. I mention in the film that I worry that I’ll get to that point, and at one point I did. However, I was lucky enough to receive treatment and get to a point that I could accept I needed help.
Watching the film for the first time and getting to see so much of him, even just hearing his voice was incredibly heart warming. For the duration I almost felt I was with him.
MIRIE: When I first saw the film, I was over whelmed with the beauty of Lucy’s talent. The way she had captured the footage and put it all together was stunning. It was everything I hoped it would be from bits of filming I had seen from some of Lucy’s previous work. Seeing some of my fathers old footage was strange at some parts because usually when you see footage that memory comes rushing back, like what day it was, where you were, smells you remember and so on. Yet there’s a part in the film of me sucking my thumb for comfort and you see me hiding. I couldn’t tell you where I’m hiding, for what reason or anything for that matter. I had no clue and still to this day have no recollection of that being filmed. I think that goes to show how often and how much my father filmed us, because it probably got to a point where it was just the “norm”.
OSBORN: The thing that struck me most about the home footage after watching Kingdom Of Us was our dad’s London accent. Although this may seem trivial, it had been so long since I heard his voice that I had forgotten what it sounded like. You can imagine my surprise when that accent came out of his mouth!
KACIE: There have been sporadic moments in my life where I’ve bumped into snippets of footage of dad – my parents’ wedding video, for example. Watching the film for the first time and getting to see so much of him, even just hearing his voice was incredibly heart warming. For the duration I almost felt I was with him. Of course with that came a great deal of other emotions – some painful, some wonderful. I think it was really all about how Lucy had pieced all of it together. It was like visual poetry for me. As for seeing pieces of my past, some that I had no memory of, was surreal. Life before dad’s death feels uncanny to that of a parallel universe. One that I have nothing to do with and yet couldn’t have been without me.
JAMIE: After watching Kingdom of Us for the first time, there was an overwhelming feeling of closure for me; I found watching old footage to bring me comfort as well as feelings of sadness that I would never be able to create memories with my dad again. You actually witness in the film me hearing my dad sing the song he wrote for my birthday when I was five years old for the first time since he’d died, and that was a magical yet heart-breaking experience for me as I hadn’t heard my Dad sing my song to me since before he died, so that intimate moment you see in the film, is one that I was happy not only to share with my family, but with the world as I think it represents to others that even if someone has been gone for years, the pain never goes away of their passing, especially when it’s by suicide.
When Lucy interviewed us, she’d ask us questions I never even thought about asking myself before and having her there, encouraging us to talk and get things off our chest was really refreshing and actually helpful.
NIKITA: Watching the film for the first time was very overwhelming. I struggled and cried a lot through the first screening.
Watching some of dad’s footage jogged memories of the times we had together – what his voice sounded like and things that he did with us – because I was only ten when he died. It was really nice to see him being happy, but it was really emotional seeing him depressed and us not realising. Now we are older we understand it, because through our own experiences of depression, we know what it’s like to feel like that. I think we were lucky to have a dad who filmed our childhood growing up and wanted to document everything. I am glad that he did that, because somehow it makes it easier to cope and having the film to look back on and watch our lives over the three years we were filming is lovely.
VIKIE: For me it was an almost surreal feeling and highlighted what a bizarre life we had led. Things become ‘normal’ after a while but there was nothing normal about how we lived, I felt very guilty for bringing the children up in such a strange environment but at the time I just couldn’t see it.
CALM: Was there anything you learned about your dad from going through this process?
PIPPA: Because I was so young, I didn’t know to what extent he was ill. All I knew was that “sometimes daddy gets sad and he might get mad”. I learnt that it was normal if we didn’t see him for days at a time.
The one thing I really learned from this, and it’s going to sound cliché, is how strong he was for fighting for so long. I’ve been in a place of giving up, thinking that there’s no reason to continue. He had these thoughts for years. He also had to deal with the pressure of debt and seven children. I aspire to be half the person he was.
KACIE: It’s quite easy to assume that with age and time, loss like this gets easier to live with and simpler to comprehend. For me, I’m finding that with time, it’s in fact getting harder. With a natural growing of knowledge and wisdom as I get older, the more I know, the more it hurts. In many ways the film has helped me, the family and in fact others (just as we’d hoped) to understand the complexity of mental health and suicide. That said, it also brought with it some heartache. I think the most important thing I learned about dad through this is that he was only a man. There was no evil in him, only evil imprisoning him.
LORIE: Being 12 years old when my dad passed to now being 23 seems like it was a different lifetime. The filming started five years ago and I suppose I learned a lot about myself in that time as well as getting to know my families stories and interpretation of who they believed dad to be, because trust me, they vary! I have learned that so many men are struggling with mental health and if we can all be honest about the demons in our head, not being ashamed of them but learning to deal with them, get psychiatric help or even medication, which there is no shame in doing. I truly believe we can reduce the number of male suicides in the years to come. I’ve also learned that meditation can also be a huge help for individuals struggling in any aspect of their lives.
MIRIE: There’s a part in the film where it’s our father’s birthday and all of us are gathered around him giving him gifts, yet he’s sat there sobbing with what I can only describe as despair. When I saw this part of the film, I was sat there and I had a huge rush of guilt run through me. I remember thinking “how could I have not noticed?”. Watching that was a realisation of just how ill my father was and how lonely he was too. I still feel guilt to this day of thinking I could’ve done something to help him, anything, even if it was just showing him more love and affection.
VIKIE: For me the full extent of his mental struggles became even more apparent and I now feel incredibly sad that I couldn’t get him to seek help.
In many ways the film has helped me, the family and in fact others (just as we’d hoped) to understand the complexity of mental health and suicide.
OSBORN: It’s clear that he wasn’t doing well for a long time before he took his own life. We may never know exactly what the issues were within his mind. However, one can see from the footage that he was definitely depressed. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t see this as children, but even if we could, it may have never changed what happened on that fateful day.
NIKITA: In some ways, I saw making the film as closure for dad dying. When Lucy interviewed us, she’d ask us questions I never even thought about asking myself before and having her there, encouraging us to talk and get things off our chest was really refreshing and actually helpful in letting us mourn our dad and recover from what has happened.
JAMIE: Going through the process of making the film was one of many mixed emotions, but the biggest thing I took from it was that he was clearly suffering with such severe mental illness that I don’t think towards the end of his life that he had a way of escaping his own mind. Had it been now, nearly 11 years later, where we as a society are at a time where mental illness is becoming far more recognised and there being an increased awareness of the damage it can do, I think we’d have pushed to get him the help that he needed and deserved. No one should ever go through that level of suffering on his or her own, even more so when it’s mental illness. You can’t see it which is what makes it so hard in today’s world. As with any physical condition, there are things you can do to try and prevent both physical and mental illness but, ultimately, if you suffer with anything then it should be treated with the same care. My dad was a very loving, compassionate, caring, selfless man when we were growing up, but his mental illness consumed him,and because he didn’t seek help there was no saving him. I also learned just how much he was suffering, when you’re a child you don’t recognise what torture someone is going through within their mind, the same way if they were suffering physically. I think for all of us as a family, which was one of the most heart-breaking realisations of the film and all the footage from us as kids, now that we’re older and have more understanding and wisdom that he was clearly struggling, and he was doing it all on his own.
On September 11th in Hampstead’s Everyman Cinema, CALM are joining with the Shanks family and Pulse Films for a screening of Kingdom Of Us followed by a panel Q&A with the family. Spaces are FREE but limited, click here for RSVP information.
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