Electricity is usually considered to be an integral part of everyday life, but electrical activity in a person’s brain can result in epileptic seizures. In this film, Electricity’s protagonist has suffered from such seizures her whole life and this drama gives some perspective on what it is like to live with epilepsy without being compromising or patronising.
Lily O’Connor (Agyness Deyn) works at the local amusement arcade, and unfortunately misses out on a date with one of her customers because she has a seizure whilst on the way to meet him that evening. Aside from the epilepsy, which she manages daily, life isn’t easy for her as her family is in turmoil. Her mother has just died and her brother Barry (Paul Anderson) decides to sell the family house and split the profits with Lily. The problem is that there is another brother, Mikey (Christian Cooke) who has been estranged from them all for many years, although Lily remembers him with fondness as he was sympathetic to her throughout her childhood. She feels that he deserves a share of the money. Lily has no feelings for her mother who abused her, throwing her down the stairs when she was a toddler, resulting in emotional scars and a head injury that resulted in frequent epileptic seizures which drugs can help contain but not always control. Lily resolves to find Mikey, but she does not know what became of him. She heads to London to find her brother. However, her random blackouts result in her needing to sometimes to rely upon the kindness of strangers in an unfamiliar city.
Based upon the book by Ray Robinson Electricity is an unusual but welcome combination of British drama which also raises issues without ever turning into a one sided debate about any of the situations it discusses. Indeed Electricity is the first feature to be co-financed by the Wellcome Trust medical charity, and shows a central character who has to deal with a life-long medical condition. Lily’s symptoms can manifest themselves at any given time but are prefigured by incidents of altered vision and perception and then, following the seizure, a post-ictal confusion a blur of images as people try to assist her and ambulances take her to hospital admission, something that is, for her, the most undesirable outcome. But epilepsy isn’t the focus of the film, it’s the catalyst for events in the narrative. When Lily learns that her mother has died, she visits the hospital bed and spits on her mother’s corpse; the reason for this is not revealed until years of maternal abuse are made known to us.
The film takes in a number of issues, from social care to physical and mental health and places them in the context of an environment where the central character’s motivations have as much to do with her past as her present. The basic premise – seeking her lost brother – is enhanced by decades of family complications as well as Lily’s epilepsy. From the opening credits we are shown a world that is strangely choreographed and composited like a dance, with rays of light depicted in microvision which are then reinstated within the film, enhancing Lily’s experiences, foreshadowed by the blurring of surroundings, the obliteration of continuity and the ultimate collapse and recovery following a seizure. She seeks normality, she knows what is best for her (she refuses to accept a different form of medication because it takes so long for her body to adapt to it), knowing how best to deal with the seizures herself.
Electricity pervades the mise-en-scene, from shots of power substations to wind farms and multiple pylons in the background, which serves to integrate with the human aspects of the story. This is a film that takes issues and creates drama, combining it with beautiful cinematic asides that are at times dramatic and at other times pure experimental art. Indeed the camerawork and editing, from the opening angles and electric dance visuals, portrays the distortions and multiple framed pre-seizure POVs enhanced by the perspectives of others, realised following Lily’s return to consciousness in whatever surroundings she finds herself. These multiple elements of dramatic filmmaking combined with the hallucinatory visual experiences are helpfully discussed in the ‘making-of’ documentary included with the disc.