C4's Caroline Flack documentary is a deeply personal account of a mental health struggle

Laura Jane Turner
·4-min read
Photo credit: Lili Peper - Channel 4
Photo credit: Lili Peper - Channel 4

From Digital Spy

Note: The following article contains discussion of themes including suicide that some readers may find upsetting.

If you felt reservations when you first saw that a documentary about Caroline Flack was on the way, you weren't alone. With the memory of her death and the circumstances surrounding her personal life at that time still relatively fresh in collective consciousness, it was always going to be a story that touched on sensitive themes and one that needed to be handled with care.

But with the blessing and intimate involvement of her family and close friends, the Channel 4 film certainly took this responsibility seriously.

Through home footage and personal anecdotes, Caroline's mother Christine and her sister Jody lead the narrative and painted a deeply personal portrait of the woman many of us only knew from TV screens or magazine covers.

Photo credit: ITV/Shutterstock
Photo credit: ITV/Shutterstock

From I'm a Celebrity and X Factor spin-offs to fronting ITV2's flagship show Love Island, her hugely successful TV career spanned the best part of two decades. But as her on-screen gigs progressed, so did the attention that surrounded her – and, as we have seen play out so often, not all of it was kind.

With Framing Britney Spears and Meghan Markle's Oprah Winfrey interview recently turning our attention to the varying ways in which the media, and by extension society at large, treat women, Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death adds a sizeable dimension to that conversation.

From constant barrages of criticism on social media to sensationalist newspaper headlines, Christine and Jody take us behind closed doors to hear about the effect that these had on Caroline and her mental health – something that, it becomes crystal clear, she had always struggled with in secret.

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

Yet while the 60-minute special has a lot of real value to say, by its very nature it offers only one perspective.

Caroline's alleged altercation with her then-boyfriend was not a focal point. While it didn't need to be – this documentary has been framed very much as a tribute, not an interrogation – the gravity and complexity of the more general issue is one that feels too weighty to gloss over.

But what was made clear was the fact that only those who were there, or close to the situation, knew the truth. It was further underlined that much of what we as the public were presented with – including that infamous bloodstained bedroom image that plastered the front page of a newspaper – was in fact a misrepresentation.

Photo credit: Mark Bourdillon - Channel 4
Photo credit: Mark Bourdillon - Channel 4

"Being one-sided" is a legitimate angle of criticism within the medium of documentary making, but it does not feel right or even appropriate to do so here.

As Christine and Jody both fervently point out: Caroline was silenced during the final months of her life and was not able to defend herself from the public onslaught or tell her side of the story. Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death is a means for this to be corrected, offering an alternative to the widespread commentary.

In that, the Channel 4 film succeeds. It is a heartbreaking look at a woman who felt things deeply and was struggling behind closed doors, and a plea for those that might also be privately grappling with their mental health to reach out and ask for help.

Above all, it is a reckoning for us all. We currently live in a society that is not kind to women; whether famous and in the public eye, or those simply going about their daily lives.

Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death should force us to reflect on the part we play and how, with varying degrees of complicity, we use our voices to add to the noise.

Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on March 17.

We would encourage anyone who identifies with the topics raised in this article to reach out. Organisations who can offer support include Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to visit mentalhealth.gov or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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