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Evelyn review: raw, vulnerable and incredibly personal

Lisa Balderson reports back from the BFI London Film Festival where she watched the powerful documentary documenting a families deeply personal bereavement process.

Evelyn, UK 2018 | 95mins | Dir. Orlando von Einsiedel

Evelyn is a raw, vulnerable and incredibly personal look at a family trying to come to terms with feelings of loss that have long been buried. Set against the backdrop of some of the UK’s most notable scenic walks, a family finally discuss the suicide of their beloved Evelyn, who in 2005, aged 22, took his own life.

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, Orlando von Einsiedel (The White Helmets) turns his attention to his own family as they come together to walk some of Evelyn’s favourite locations. They face their tragedy head on, and talk about his death – a subject that the family have collectively suppressed for over a decade.

Orlando smiles nervously as he talks to the camera, as if trying to smile through the discomfort of the subject matter. As a filmmaker, he has inserted himself into major conflict zones to unearth tragic and hidden stories. Conscious or not, the family have chosen not to talk with each other about the loss of their son and brother Evelyn. They’ve buried deeply what happened and continued with their lives. Orlando confesses, that he rarely even says his brother’s name. Younger siblings Gwennie and Robin too, rarely speak of the day they lost their brother, but are seemingly on board with older brother Orlando’s plan to finally open this discussion, however painful for them all.

Evelyn himself appears in the form of occasional home movie excerpts, interlaced throughout. But he is mostly revealed to us through the memories of his family and friends, as they draw upon their favourite, and most notable moments from the past. Memories unfold of a happy, lively, intelligent, engaging person, who loved to walk, and to skateboard, and who dreamt one day of becoming a doctor. His depression didn’t manifest itself until his late teens, when his personality and behaviour seemed to change overnight.

Memories unfold of a happy, lively, intelligent, engaging person, who loved to walk, and to skateboard, and who dreamt one day of becoming a doctor.

As the film progresses, we see the tense relationship between Gwennie and their father Andreas, who moved away when the children were young. Their interactions are sometimes volatile; Gwennie chastising her father for irritable behaviour towards trivial things, and her father in return shutting her down. You can’t help but wonder how much their behaviours are explicitly linked to their loss. There are many tears, many uncomfortable conversations, many times when both family and friends joining the walk feel that they cannot go on.

Evelyn’s own mental health issues are touched upon, but never explored fully, the true focus here is the family left behind; their own sense of helplessness, guilt, was there something more they could have done? We learn in a factual, and uncomfortable manner through their father Andreas, that mental health has long been a problem for men in his family, but seemingly not openly discussed.

This is an emotional film, sometimes hard to watch, but cathartic in terms of the emotions it lets out. The open countryside serves as a safe space for the discussion of a still highly stigmatised subject matter. This film shows that it is good to talk, to let emotion come through, and will hopefully in some way help others to break down the barriers of talking openly about mental health and suicide.

Join CALM to walk and talk about Evelyn

CALM joins forces with the makers of Academy-Award-winning documentary Evelyn, to combine screenings with walks and panels around the UK, celebrating the healing power of reflection and honest conversation. Find a screening near you, or put on your own.

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