From surgery to a miscarriage, no topic is out of bounds during actor and screenwriter’s Charlotte Carroll’s eye-opening documentary.
Pregnancy complications have unfortunately always been a taboo conversation within wider society. Whether it be a miscarriage or birth complications, many women around the world suffer fatal losses and arduous experiences – usually in silence. Charlotte Carroll is here to change this narrative. After being rushed to hospital in crippling pain, Carroll was promised and denied the chance of motherhood within an hour. With the doctors diagnosing her experience as an ectopic pregnancy – a situation in which a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb – the documentary producer was taken into surgery and began the process of a miscarriage. After seeking comfort in the form of documenting the experience on her iPhone, Charlotte is here to share her story in the form of a tell-all documentary entitled The Topic.
“I didn’t know anything about my situation, and chances are if I didn’t know then maybe many others didn’t know either,” states Carroll when discussing the decision to make the documentary. “I wanted to break through the veneer of the sterilised information out there by making the film raw and intimate and give visibility to an area that I felt had very little exposure in a real and human way. In the end, this is a film about hope and comfort in knowing others are on the journey with you.”
The film is filled to the brim with raw emotions and candid discussions on the most intimate of topics. Throughout, multiple societal barriers come crashing down, opening up a safe and limitless space for Charlotte to discuss her deepest thoughts and most visceral feelings from the point of diagnosis through to the recovery. And, with this issue being one that 1 in 90 women in the UK will experience during their pregnancy, we are offered a very necessary education on a severely common sickness.
While this project – which sees Carroll play the part of writer, producer and star – has only recently been released, this is one in a few ground-breaking projects that she has been associated with. Her work on the Oscar and BAFTA qualifying film A Youth and her directorial feature on Red Crayon have set her on the map as a highly-decorated producer that tackles important socio-political issues through the medium of film. With this being her most intimate piece of work yet, it is most definitely one that you – and all of your friends – should watch. The Topic is available to stream now at https://watchargo.com.
Check out our interview with Charlotte Carroll below…
Congratulations on the release of The Topic! What has the process of creating this film been like?
Thank you so much, it has been a wild ride indeed. The film began very organically, I started filming ten minutes into almost collapsing with pain. One minute I was having lunch at a restaurant during the bank holiday, the next I was rushing to a hospital. Looking back, it was a mix of instinct and comfort to pick up my iPhone and document what was happening whilst I was going through it. I am so thankful I did; my hope is that The Topic will cast a light on an issue that I knew virtually nothing about before making it and that so many others are also suffering through.
The post-production of the film has also been incredibly cathartic; I was able to pour myself into the edit throughout Covid, working alongside my brilliant editor Rhiannon Mayor, all whilst channelling and processing some deep emotions.
What type of reception has the film received?
The reception has been truly overwhelming. I am so grateful that so many people around the world have watched it, young and old – men and women. However, I am particularly touched by all the incredibly brave women who have reached out to me and messaged me about the film sharing their own experiences.
Since releasing The Topic, I have been flooded with stories and messages from people sharing their journeys – it’s inspiring to see the strength of all these fellow women going through incredibly difficult times. These stories spur me on further, it is so important that we keep the dialogue open, so we do not lose momentum for women out there who feel alone. I want them all to know; you are not alone and together we can all help each other.
At what point along your journey did you decide you were going to document your ectopic pregnancy experience and share it with the public?
On my way to the hospital, I was clueless about what was going on and scared, I filmed the experience as a way to cope with what I was going through. I just kept thinking, maybe this will be something that other people have gone through or if not maybe if I film it then others can prevent being where I am. I didn’t know anything about my situation, and chances are if I didn’t know then maybe many others didn’t know either. I wanted to break through the veneer of the sterilised information out there by making the film raw and intimate and give visibility to an area that I felt had very little exposure in a real and human way. In the end, this is a film about hope and comfort in knowing others are on the journey with you.
Some of your biggest successes include your work on the projects Red Crayon and A Youth. How did working on this project differ from the ones you have worked on in the past?
Each film is a new universe; they have their own flow and they each feed into one another in unforeseen ways. In Red Crayon, I took on the subject of PTSD in children in refugee camps, pulling inspiration from Krzysztof Kieślowski, I used the power of imagery through cinematography to envelop the viewer into a story viewed through the eyes of children with trauma.
A Youth focused on the universality of the human condition through trials and tribulations – it’s a story of family, love, music and friendship in the face of extreme hardship. The film follows Peyman, an Afghan boy and rapper, and his family through multiple years of relocation and exodus from their home. I produced it alongside my dear friend Afolabi Kuti – together with director Giorgio Bosisio we wanted to tell the story of refugees from their perspective, shedding the stigma, and connecting with the viewer on a human level. The film just finished its 4-year journey; winning festivals around the world including Aspen Film Festival and qualifying for both the BAFTA and Oscar, and we couldn’t be prouder – however, the real win is that it allowed for Peyman’s story to be seen and hopefully affect much-needed change.
Of course, The Topic was very different to both of my previous projects as it was filmed “live” and on the go. Previously, I had only shot with 4K cameras like the ARRI Alexa – to be shooting with an iPhone felt whacky and very freeing and also so very comfortable.
All of my films have a message larger than themselves, although there are some common themes across my work. Giving a voice to the unheard and shedding a light on mental is a key factor of discussion for me. In The Topic, the mental health aspect is right up there with unavoidable openness – staring you in your face but making it easily digestible and relatable.
Being so raw and vulnerable in front of a camera must come with its challenges, what was it like sharing something so personal with a wider audience?
Safe, not the answer I would have expected to say, but I had created a safe space, mainly due to the fact that I see my iPhone as a safe place to create. As our phones are so much a part of all of us now, it really felt like a continuation of myself and that, in turn, allowed the film to be more open than I had expected. I did think at times to borrow a camera and swap it out but it didn’t feel right, it felt too removed for the film’s message to be not only seen but truly felt.
At the time I was not even considering boundaries, and in reflection, I am so glad I gave all, the openness allows The Topic to take you on the journey and gives comfort to those who have gone through something similar – it shows you are not alone.
One thing I am particularly proud of is how the film has been received by schools. I have gotten so many requests from schools to show it to their students, girls and boys, which is so touching and important – if we can educate our children about these things early on, less of us will be left in the dark should we ever need to recognise symptoms or support a loved one.
Throughout the film we see you go through countless rigorous and trying situations including surgery and a miscarriage. If it is possible to say, what was the most enduring part of the whole experience?
The experience came in waves, one crashing into the next. The first wave hit when I was first told I was pregnant and then another quickly after as I was being told I would lose a fallopian tube and the egg. And the waves seemed to keep coming, washing over with numbness and shock taking over me.
It took me a while to find my feet and refocus; suddenly I was being asked to make decisions on the fly that will affect my future fertility forever. I had to find my bearings and concentrate on getting to a safe place health-wise that I could recover from.
The film also touches on your partner Diego and the support he offered throughout the ectopic pregnancy. What would you say the experience was like for him as a partner?
The experience was also very trying for him. Throughout the whole experience, there is a limbo of helplessness that you cannot get around. His faith had to be in the doctor and the process, rolling with the punches. He never left my side and was there when I opened my eyes at every point. Perhaps knowing that he made me feel safe and protected got him through the parts where he did not know what was going on. Just as there is little awareness for the themes we touch on in the film, there’s also a huge lack in how it affects our partners and our families which inevitably affect us also. It’s something that becomes part of the bigger picture.
Throughout the film, we are able to catch glimpses of your bubbly and humorous personality. Was there anything you did in particular to keep your spirits up during the experience?
I do laugh at my own jokes a lot, so I’m very happy to hear that has come across! I believe it is important to keep on smiling so I found light in everyday tasks where I could.
During the film, it is mentioned that around 1 in every 90 pregnancies in the UK is ectopic. Why do you think this very common issue is not more widely acknowledged or discussed?
There are so many reasons; one being it is something so traumatic you just have to move on from it. Another powerful one could be the taboo factor – feeling that you are broken somehow and the self-narrative that ‘I am weak, I am inadequate’ all these emotions come to mind and to bear to others is terrifying.
There isn’t too much of a space at the table for this discussion, only recently have others started to speak out – from Meghan Markle, Chrissy Teigen and many brave others who are voicing these “taboo failings”. We are all finally starting to realise how often women go through these traumatic experiences alone and that we can be there for each other.
What is the main takeaway that you would like viewers to gain from watching your film?
It is so important that we listen to our inner voice; I really regret not going to the doctor earlier. I question why I didn’t, and I realise I didn’t want to bother my doctor with what I diminished as trivial pains. We need to outgrow this notion and allow ourselves the space to recognise where we need help and say that no pain is trivial no question is too silly; ask, ask, ask! That way you can stay safer than I was and avoid a near-death experience.
It is ironic that in a world where we are used to being so open on social platforms that we can’t be open about pain. So please do seek medical advice if you feel something is off and if you can, speak openly about it so that you and others can stay safe.
Do you have any other projects lined up or any that you are keen to start working on in the future?
I am currently putting the final touches on a TV pilot about dyslexia and all things backwards. I am very dyslexic and dyspraxic so this project is very close to my heart. On the acting front, there are a few features releasing soon which I am looking forward to seeing on the big screen. It’s been one heck of a journey across these last twelve months, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring.