Alex – A Passion For Life Review: Ode To Joy

October 7, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

tv-stars-4ALEX – A PASSION FOR LIFE: Thursday 8th October, Channel 4, 9pm Alert Me

Alex: A Passion For Life is a snapshot of the life of Alex Stobbs, a student at Cambridge, as he attempts to carry out his dream of conducting the King’s College Choir at Cadogan Hall in Bach’s three-hour choral epic, St. Matthew’s Passion.

The complication is that Alex has cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition which means he’s wracked by lung-shattering coughing, custard-thick mucus and frequent trips to the hospital.

Alex comes across as a normal teenager, living a life as fast paced and energetic as any young man of his age. One thing is different though; too much activity and his cystic fibrosis could flare up and literally kill him. Despite this or perhaps even because of it, he’s determined to cram as much into his life as possible. So this manifests itself in passionate dedication to his ambitions, almost every waking moment dedicated to his music, whether it’s listening to it on his iPod continuously, working alongside his old music tutors or attending exhausting rehearsals.

Oh did I mention he’s also partially deaf? He’s also partially deaf.

Alex seems to take his health in his stride, and it’s to his credit that he doesn’t make a big deal of what many would consider a crippling disability. “What’s this cord?? asks the interviewer at one point in Alex’s student kitchen. “Oh, that’s an emergency thing, it tells people that I’m dying?, says Alex offhandedly.

He’s also infectiously likable; his dedication to his music and his prodigious talent are all consuming and his refusal to let his physical limitations stand in his way is inspirational and uplifting. He’s dependent on a mind-boggling cocktail of drugs (a table is shown creaking under the weight of a week’s supply of his medication) and it seems like he consumes more than his own body weight in pills. This coupled with a new course of physiotherapy designed to remove the mucus from his lungs (a routine which make him sound like the world’s most talented slime zombie) is remarkable viewing.

Balancing his medical routines with his punishing regimes of rehearsal and study is a terrible strain and predictably his health starts to suffer as a result. He’s ably assisted by his brother and his mother (the latter treats him like some kind of bipedal horse – “did you have your evening feed? Oh you must have your evening feed?) but you can see the constant frustration it is to him to be dependent on others for his very existence; he often puts his health at risk in order to do what he wants to do.

Alex: A Passion For Life is exactly that. It’s a glimpse into the life of a supremely talented young man who continues to have a relentlessly positive outlook despite a physical ailment even the thought of which would leave a lot of people destitute.

Let’s just hope that Hollywood doesn’t get hold of it and turn it into schmaltzy Oscar-bait a la The Soloist.


Jez Sands

For more hard-hitting, emotional documentaries why not read our review of Growing Up Without A Face or Kids For Sale – Stacey Dooley Investigates…..