Alan Hardy is in his early 80s and a central character. A former London bus depot manager, he moves from his council home to a state residential care home and then to the Mountbatten hospice during the course of the film. He also relies on the daily visits of a private carer, Julie. Alan has a profound and unique philosophy of life and his own approaching death and he shares this in the film, always accompanied by a much-savoured cigarette (Alan was dying of a non-smoking related cancer). For Alan, time, life, the body, these are all a part of our on going transcendence, and death is to be welcomed, not feared.
Jamie Gunnell is the film’s other central character; he is 40 years old and his four year old daughter is the centre of his universe. Jamie chooses to be direct and open about his illness, telling his daughter everything she wants to know, then preparing to say goodbye as she reaches her 5th birthday. All around Jamie are friends and family in shock, and we see this community come together for an extraordinary fundraiser party at the local working men’s club, to raise funds so that Jamie could go on one last holiday with his young family, to a caravan park on the island. Jamie’s closest mates accompany him in the last days of his life, trying to keep things as normal as possible in his hospice bedroom by drinking beer, watching football, and making fun. Jamie’s own visceral humour breaks the incredible tension all around him, and for the film viewers.
Mary Chessell is an octogenarian native to the island, who is forced to draw on her meagre savings to pay for private carers, without whom she would not be able to cope. Having spent several years in a residential care home, Mary had come back to her own home to see out her final days. She had survived numerous strokes and heart attacks, and was managing late stage cancer. But the biggest challenge Mary faces is isolation. With long days to fill in a big house, her chief companion is her television.
Roy Howard is a former university librarian, retired to the island to devote himself to supporting his friends, extended family, and his beloved catholic church. Roy is friends with everyone, and has bedside chats to volunteers to pass the time during lengthy blood transfusions. His main concern is boyfriend David, who worries about Roy, and is struggling to emotionally cope.