REVIEW: The Fragility of Life in ‘Cotton Wool’ (2020)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“Leanne Best is a shining star, giving an unbelievable performance as a stroke victim.”

243,000 carers in England and Wales are under the age of nineteen, 22,000 of these carers are under the age of nine. Nicholas Connor’s short film Cotton Wool shows the reality of these children being forced to grow up and care for their loved ones. Cotton Wool is both a criticism of insufficient home care in the United Kingdom and also serves as a tribute to these young carers.

Cotton Wool opens with single mother Rachel (Leanne Best) arguing with her teenage daughter Jennifer. Shortly thereafter, Rachel suffers a stroke, witnessed by her seven-year-old son, Sam (Max Vento). After returning home from the hospital, health professionals give Sam and Jennifer instructions to help care for their mother, leaving Rachel’s care to them. This scene, in particular, shows Connor’s motivations for writing and directing Cotton Wool. The health care professionals are nonchalant when speaking with Rachel’s children, it shows the normalization of children becoming carers for their ill relatives. As the film continues, Cotton Wool shows how Sam and Jennifer are struggling to cope with caring for their mother, while Rachel struggles with the burden of trying to get healthy after her stroke.

Leanne Best is a shining star throughout Cotton Wool, giving an unbelievable performance as Rachel, the stroke victim. The opening scene where she has a stroke is especially frightening, it continues for a while, forcing the viewer to witness the pain and helplessness that comes with having a stroke. Best continues her excellent performance after the stroke, showing the hopelessness Rachel feels when she struggles with her brain exercises. Best’s performance shows the fragility of life, that one’s health can change at a moment’s notice. Max Vento also gives a wonderful performance, especially for such a young boy. Sam is the one who is continually present in caring for his mother, he does his best to help Rachel with her flashcards despite only being seven.

Max points at a flashcard that has a photo of a Yorkshire Terrier.
Image courtesy of Nicholas Connor

Katie Quinn’s Jennifer is the total contrast to Sam. She is a typical teenage girl fighting with her mother, a common trope but necessary to show the change Jennifer and Rachel’s relationship undergoes throughout Cotton Wool. Jennifer flips between being completely absent, to helping here and there. She is embarrassed by her mother’s illness and also wants to continue her social life uninhibited. Quinn does well in making Jennifer’s character more nuanced, giving her more personality than the screenplay, but she does not change until another character forces her to. Another issue with the screenplay is simply the length. At 38 minutes, Nicholas Connor’s Cotton Wool is still considered a short film, and with all of the characters and change they go through, Cotton Wool could have benefitted from being feature-length to better impact the viewer.Cotton Wool is a necessary piece of film to watch because it shows the harsh reality of young carers in the United Kingdom. Connor’s writing brings the viewer on a journey to witness a family trying to rebuild itself after their mother suffers a stroke. He does succeed in producing a fine tribute to these children, but Cotton Wool never quite reaches its intended emotional climax as there is not enough time to fully realize its character arcs. With the film flipping between criticizing home care in the U.K. and praising these young carers, it’s hard to see Cotton Wool’s overall intended message. Nevertheless, it is still a fine piece of cinema that showcases the life of stroke victims.

Dir: Nicholas Connor

Cast: Leanne Best, Katie Quinn, Max Vento

Release Date: May 9, 2020

Available On: Amazon Prime

Header image courtesy of Nicholas Connor