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Cotton Wool: An Honest and Powerful Tribute to Young Carers

Having caught up with Writer/Director Nicholas Connor last year, Strand are delighted to announce that his short film Cotton Wool is now available to watch on Amazon Prime here. If you want to see if your burning question was asked by Film Editor, Andriani Scordellis, and wittingly answered by Nicholas you can read the interview here.

Film Writer, Ollie Macnaughton thoughtfully reviews Cotton Wool, illustrating what makes the film so special and how it remains so impactful in displaying young carers on screen.


At the end of Nicholas Connor’s short film Cotton Wool, a title card tells us that there are over 243,000 carers under the age of 19. Even more staggering is that 22,000 of those are under the age of 9. Connor’s film is a testament and reminder of those children that must take on significant responsibilities at such a young age. The conflict between self-interest and compassion for those we love can often be a tug of war, but Connor’s film perfectly depicts what it is like to live and care for someone with a disability.

The film follows single mother Rachel (Leanne Best) of a teenage daughter Jennifer (Katherine Quinn) and son Sam (Max Vento). When Rachel suffers a devastating stroke that leaves her barely able to speak, Jennifer and Sam must become her carers. Both handle the challenge in different ways. Sam wishes to provide the level of protection and comfort that his mother once offered him. Whereas Jennifer struggles with the burden her mother now poses on her own desire for independence. For both, the stroke reinforces this viewpoint. Sam wants to be with his mum constantly and Jennifer cannot deal with the emotional responsibility and spends less time at home.

Connor and his cinematographer Alan C. McLaughlin do not opt for a flashy or overt visual style. Much like Ken Loach’s best work they ground the story in reality, allowing for the strength of the screenplay and acting to explore the core themes. The film is bathed in an almost heavenly white light that ties into some of the film’s religious themes. Much of the film feels as though it is set in winter. There is a Lynchian/Argento like nightmare as Rachel finds herself on the verge of another mini-stroke. As Rachel wanders around her nightmarish surroundings, there is a distinct reminder of Jimmy Stewart’s nightmare in Vertigo. Both characters attempt to find meaning (in what they perceive) as their now meaningless lives, whilst being assaulted by a kaleidoscope of colours. It is the film’s most powerful sequence visually and its attempt to explore what it's like to experience a stroke is breathtaking.

A great and restrained visual style would be irrelevant if Connor had cast the wrong actors. Fortunately, he has found himself with an extraordinary cast both young and old. Best delivers a performance that gives Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking a run for his money. There is always a look of love and melancholy in her eyes. Love for her children and despair that she may never be able to communicate with them again. Her performance never feels forced or disingenuous. She conveys so much physically that it feels like less of a performance and more of a portrait of a real person. Connor gets an excellent performance from his child actors, a feat that even the most of renowned A-List directors would find difficult to do. Vento displays a warm sensitivity towards his mother’s condition. Quinn shows her adolescent vexation at her situation as her character has perhaps the most complicated story arc. All three have a wonderful chemistry and work seamlessly together.

Connor has picked an important and often overlooked subject matter to show off his talents. I personally found certain stylistic choices did take away from the poignancy of the film (the ending montage sequence did slightly feel like a John Lewis advert at points), however these do not lessen the film’s power. Connor has emerged as an extremely talented filmmaker who seems to have a gift to bring out the best in his actors. He is certainly a filmmaker to watch closely.

You can read Strand's interview with writer/director Nicholas Connor here

Cotton Wool is now available to watch on Amazon Prime here

Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor

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