Larry (Kieran Coppinger), who has Down Syndrome, and Sophie (Charlene Kelly), who suffers from severe epilepsy, are both regulars at a centre that caters for individuals with intellectual disabilities. At the behest of Larry, a young care worker there named Tom (Robert Doherty) organises for the couple to get a hotel room for the day when they are among a group who get taken out for a trip to the cinema. However, Tom’s clumsiness and lack of organisation causes mayhem.
Sanctuary is a very sweet, very touching movie with a light sense of humour that will keep you engaged throughout. The ensemble cast are an infectious joy to watch and the story truly stays with you.
The topic of challenges faced by people with intellectual disabilities is dealt with sensitively but unapologetically. In one scene, we see Larry, Sophie and co. take pride in their work of letter sorting. Such work gives them a sense of purpose, but now it is being replaced by DJ classes and a salon. They’re unhappy not working, but the situation is tricky – if they do work that requires more labour, they must be paid accordingly, and if they get paid any more money, their benefits will be cut off.
The film also casts an impenitent and humane eye on the topic of sex. Sadly, Larry and Sophie are not allowed to express their love for one another physically because by law, they lack the capacity to give consent. The law seeks to protect them but it also limits them.
While Larry and Sophie are the main characters, we are also introduced to their friends at the centre and the group consists of unique individuals who share a desire to push their boundaries and become more independent, but also understand how important it is to follow the rules. We see them engage in flirting and the rules of attraction – something we can all relate to as a tricky area – and their conversations have some real comedic nuggets. The various adventures each go off on are jovial and one wishes their fun would never end.
At one point, the narrative’s happy-go-lucky style becomes something darker and Charlene Kelly conveys the trauma her character has suffered beautifully. In opposition to the somewhat cheesiness that preceded it, director Lee Colli8n opts for an ending you really don’t see coming and hits some hard truths. This is a film that sticks with you and will hopefully provoke some much needed conversation.