mon 15/07/2024

Amber and Me review - sensitive documentary about twin girls, one with Down Syndrome | reviews, news & interviews

Amber and Me review - sensitive documentary about twin girls, one with Down Syndrome

Amber and Me review - sensitive documentary about twin girls, one with Down Syndrome

Heartwarming and intelligent portrait of sisters growing up together

Amber and Olivia having fun with face paints

This heartfelt documentary follows twin girls who are just starting primary school. We first meet Amber struggling to pop her head through her shirt, helped by her sister Olivia.

Amber has Down Syndrome and everything is just that bit harder for her; not just dressing, but understanding what cake her dad wants when they’re playing with her toy grocery shop. 

Olivia, who provides fragments of voice-over in an otherwise narration-free film, worries that other girls at school are mean and tease her sister. Her filmmaker father, Ian Davies, reassures Olivia from behind the camera that she’s not responsible for Amber. But siblings and parents of children with special needs will recognise all too well that strong protective instinct.  

The differences between the twins are apparent from the very outset, from height to fluency, but the bond between both girls is strong and watching them playing together and giving a cookery demonstration is charming. Artfully shot with tableaux of toys and household clutter, the changing seasons and passing of time is indicated by school nativity plays and Easter cake baking. There are ellipses which audiences with experience with navigating special needs education may find frustrating; for example, the girls’ Oxfordshire primary school demonstrates excellent individual teaching but there's no indication whether this was easy for Amber’s parents to obtain.

Amber and Me joins an honourable line of documentaries made by journalists and filmmakers who find themselves in a new world of parenting when their child is born with special needs. It’s more modest than Life, Animated and less didactic than Sally Phillip’s A World without Down’s Syndrome but there’s a quiet respect for the audience in its construction. Filmed over several years, the documentary lets the viewer judge for themselves the merits and pitfalls of inclusion in mainstream education, while painting a loving portrait of a remarkable pair of sisters.

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