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The End: How We Made It - 'We're alright with life, but we don't contemplate the death bit'
Frances O’Connor and Harriet Walter star in the series that manages to find the humour in death and explore what makes life worth living in a perceptive manner, streaming on NOW TV.
Watch The End on Sky Atlantic with NOW TV
Cop shows, sci-fi shows, singing competition, workplace sitcoms... we get dozens of them every single year.
But how many TV series have you watched in the last 12 months that approach the subject of death head-on and explore the subject of the right to die, and what makes life worth living?
The End is a rare and original TV series, set on the Australian Gold Coast, which tells the story of three generations of one family, all grappling with the subject of our ticking clock and living a life that counts.
Frances O'Connor plays Doctor Kate Brennan, a doctor in Palliative Care, who has a hot mess of a personal life and who fights every day to give her patients a little bit more time.
Her mother Edie, played by Harriet Walter, just discovered her dead husband’s infidelity, has become passionate about her right to die, but has failed spectacularly to end her own life.
Kate has a husband in jail, a son who’s not convinced life is worth living and a daughter who might be a sociopath, but suddenly also has the responsibility of keeping her mother alive.
She brings her to Australia and moves Edie into a 5-Star retirement village, much to her mother’s consternation. But the move begins a new chapter in the mother and daughter’s fractious relationship as Edie discovers that it’s never too late to start again.
Bold and unflinching, writer Samantha Strauss has created a series about the biggest subjects, living and dying, and injects them with joy and laughter.
BT TV caught up with the creator and cast to hear about how the series was made...
Edie is based on real person
"My grandmother was moved up to a retirement village, which looked very like the one on the show. When she arrived she was very depressed, hunched over, all in brown and my father who is a doctor gave her six months to live," recalls Strauss.
"And my mum, who is not a doctor, believed we just needed to get her into the cool group at the retirement village and treat it like high school. So we did, we got her into the cool group. We’d go up there a couple of days a week and you could buy a round of drinks for 30 dollars including a bottle of wine. For me it was a great way of going and pre-loading before going to a nightclub! And we ended up having a spectacular time together.
"She made a best friend called Pamela, she ditched all her drab clothes and started wearing sexy red dresses, dancing on table tops, getting into drugs and doing all sorts of things. It felt like Mean Girls with all the cliques.
"It really inspired me because she spent so much of her life as a wife or mother and she was being single for the first time and had a really wonderful couple of years."
Giving the older generation a voice
"As you get older the parts get narrower and narrower. And when they’re written by someone young, it’s often like how we treat our grandmothers - we just think of them as a rock solid, immovable object," said Walter.
"When really, we’re all still changing until the day we die.
"[Sam] is a young woman, who through her own wonderful grandmother, has created a fully rounded, adolescent, child, middle-aged, old woman that was just terrific to play. And the subject matter, I’m getting nearer to it being terribly relevant."
The range of characters in the show matched the real life people that Strauss met in her grandmother’s retirement village.
"There were three topics of discussion at the retirement home. Sex, drugs and how to die. There would be an 80-year-old woman telling me how she had worn out her vibrator in one moment and then a class on euthenasia the next," she said.
It makes no judgement
"I met two doctors who run a palliative care unit. They let me shadow them for a whole day," explains Strauss.
"I got to go wherever they went and whatever they did. You have to sign an NDA, but they let me in with families and you saw what they did every day for a job and it was just mind-boggling. They were amazing, amazing women and it was all about giving people an excellent death.
"I wanted to be really balanced in how we approached it. If Edie had been allowed to die in episode one, she wouldn’t have had a fun episode 10 if you stick around. It’s definitely a complicated issue, we talk about it a lot in Australia. I think 80% of Australians want some sort of right to die, but yet that legislation is only just starting to come through and it’s very restricted."
Walter said that she did feel "a certain responsibility" because she didn't want it to appear like "we're making light" of the subject.
"But I think Sam has covered it all. There are things that go wrong. Things that go right. People who appreciate it. And Edie, who starts to enjoy life and goes the other way," she said.
Frances O'Connor admitted that she remained just as conflicted on the subject of the right to die at the end of the series as she did at the start of filming.
"I think it's really hard to blanket legislate when it's such a personal issue," she argued.
But it's the inner conflict of the characters and the balanced perspective on the tricky subject, which makes The End such a compelling watch.
"It's brilliant to play a character in that world and with that dilemma for a period of time," said O'Connor.
"She's a wonderful character, I love her. She's so complicated, conflicted and f***ed up in so many ways, which is so human. That's what great about this series, it's so human, real and funny."
O'Connor added: "I think people are very uncomfortable with death. We're alright with the life bit, but we don't want to contemplate the death bit.
"I think because of the tone Sam brings to it and because it's very sunny too, that helps take the edge off it. But I'm sure it will ruffle some feathers."
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