Malcolm is a Little Unwell
The story of an acclaimed journalist's life-changing vaccination
After a routine yellow fever vaccine required for an assignment in Africa, award-winning BBC foreign correspondent Malcolm Brabant descends into madness. Following a near fatal fever, subsequent hallucinations convince him he is the new Messiah. The psychosis lasts for six weeks, but Brabant suffers several relapses, including the staunch conviction that the Second Coming must be broadcast on TV. With rare footage shot by Brabant and his wife, this doc is both a paean to love and family, as well as a unique window onto mental illness.
"I am the wise man. Protect me. I am the wise man. Jesus is coming to Greece to save Greece. Come and protect me." Malcolm's life began to unravel after he was given a yellow fever vaccine called Stamaril, made by the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, for a BBC assignment in Africa. Despite not ticking any of the boxes that could have caused a potential problem, Malcolm soon developed an intense fever. "He was shaking so violently. I've never seen anything like it", recalls Trine Villemann, Malcolm's wife.
After being admitted to hospital, Doctors struggle to kill the fever. Though not fatal, his illness leaves his mind in a serious state of deterioration. Calling Trine one day, "I'm Jesus", he tells her, convinced that he is The Chosen One. "He said, I’m going to fly with angels now. My husband’s room was on the 15th floor of the building and there was a big window. And I started texting this friend of ours begging her to call the ward and ask the nurses to check on him. They ran into his room and found him on the window sill praying."
Following this episode, Malcolm is admitted to a private psychiatric clinic, where his religious fixation only intensifies. He believes that old friends are his Guardian Angels, preparing him for the Second Coming, and leaves his own blood on the wall in a sign of the cross. Six weeks later, the psychosis subsides, and Malcolm is allowed to return home for the first time since receiving the vaccine.
Shortly afterwards, he slips back into his psychosis. At one point he even convinces his young son Lukas that the family are under attack. "A child always thinks the parent speaks the truth. So when Lukas’s dad told him we were under attack, he was terrified", Trine laments.
Following several further relapses, and finding themselves financially unstable, finally in July 2012 "I left hospital for the last time. I haven't been back". Though Sanofi Pasteur have denied any responsibility for Malcolm's illness, the World Health Organisation have since altered its guidelines concerning the yellow fever vaccine; now only one shot is necessary in a lifetime. According to Dr Heidi Larsen, leader of a global programme aimed at boosting public confidence in vaccines, "there really needs to be a much better understanding about how much in terms of dosage, and when this vaccine is given."
Reviews and More
"A movie about living with psychosis and overcoming it" – Dirty Movies
For more information about Malcolm's experience, see here.
Cambridge Film Festival - Official Selection