Playing the part of someone showing the early signs of Alzheimer's disease is one of the hardest roles he's taken on, admits Kenneth Branagh.
The 55-year-old Emmy winning actor had to become familiar with the condition ahead of filming the final series of BBC crime drama, Wallander, based on the novels written by Swedish author, Henning Mankell.
Branagh has won critical acclaim over the past 7 years for his portrayal of the aloof Swedish detective who struggles to come to terms with the violence he sees each day, and which impacts on the difficult relationships he has both with his daughter and elderly father who is living with Alzheimer's.
In this final series, he himself has to face a diagnosis of Alzheimer's.
“The beginning of it is often very subtle, and that’s what we try to convey in the series, that sometimes the identification of Alzheimer’s is in itself a detective story.
There are moments when the forgetfulness that we all suffer from, ‘Where have I put my keys?’ becomes ‘I’ve been in the front hall for 10 minutes not even knowing why I’m in the front hall.’
Then somebody says ‘Did you forget your keys?’ and the person who is coming back into consciousness realises that’s what they were looking for and, weirdly, a brain that has slowed down is now racing as it instinctively chooses to cover up and make excuses for its actions.
And there’s that sensitive, eggshell-walking atmosphere that surrounds that behaviour because it’s not easy for someone to say ‘you’ve got dementia’.”
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia currently affects around 850,000 Britons.
“Of course, it’s often not them who is suffering, it’s their loved ones,” said Branagh, who flew his wife, set designer Lindsay Brunnock, out to Sweden during filming to help give him a sense of “normality” at the end of the working day.
“That moment when they ask, ‘Are you my daughter?’ It’s entirely pragmatic and necessary from the person suffering from dementia, it’s a genuine question.
“But it must be very distressing for the person being asked, to know that represents how far they’ve been away.”
“Honest and accurate portrayals of people with dementia in film and TV not only helps to improve people’s understanding of the condition, but also lets people with dementia see themselves represented in our culture.
“For Wallander to recognise the warning signs of Alzheimer’s that his father lived with is a situation that many people with dementia can relate to.
“Even as little as five years ago, I don’t think we would have seen this on our screens.”
The final series of Wallander which also stars Tom Hiddleston, Sarah Smart and Tom Beard is due to be aired on the BBC starting on May 8th.