'Be Here Now (The Andy Whitfield Story)': Film Review

Be Here Now (The Andy Whitfield Story) - H 2016
Courtesy of TUGG / Be Here Now Productions
Powerful and inspirational.

Lilibet Foster's documentary follows the 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' star as he struggles with a fatal illness.

When Andy Whitfield agreed to let filmmaker Lilibet Foster document his efforts to regain his health after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the star of the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand was no doubt hoping for a happy ending. Sadly, it was not to be, as the 39-year-old actor succumbed to the illness in 2011, only 18 months after the initial diagnosis. The resulting film, Be Here Now (The Andy Whitfield Story), is a moving chronicle of his brave struggle with a fatal illness and the meaning he found along the way.  

The Welsh-born Whitfield, a physically perfect male specimen if there ever was one, was a hugely successful fashion model in Australia before turning to acting. After appearing in several Australian films and television shows, he landed the career-changing title role on the series based on the classic 1960 film about the gladiator leader of a slave rebellion in ancient Rome. At that point, the actor seemed to have it all: the lead in a hot TV show; an adoring wife, Vashti; and two beautiful young children, a boy and a girl. Behind-the-scenes footage of Whitfield training along with his fellow well-built actors in "gladiator boot camp" illustrate the fun he was having.

But after shooting the first season of Spartacus he was diagnosed with the disease, with doctors telling him that if left untreated he would be dead within six months. Demonstrating his resolve by having the affirming phrase "Be Here Now" tattooed on his arm, Whitfield dutifully submitted to treatments that included 11 rounds of chemotherapy. The cable network accommodated his absences by producing a six-part prequel to the series featuring a different actor.

The illness at first seemed to be going into remission, with Whitfield declared cancer-free at one point. But it returned with a vengeance, forcing the actor to abandon his star-making role. He turned to alternative medicine, traveling to India to receive "cleansing treatments" and acupuncture, among other things. In one of the film's more moving scenes, Whitfield is brought to tears when assured by an Indian doctor that he'll be ok.  

Whitfield and his wife clearly granted unfettered access to the filmmaker, who captures many highly personal, intimate moments that are both joyous and tragic. Although he suffered bouts of depression, some of which are captured on film, Whitfield emerges as a stoic, indomitable figure, keeping his composure even when receiving the most terrible of news from his doctor. His equally strong wife offers unwavering support, even while gradually realizing that the battle is being lost.

Although it's hard to avoid the feeling of invading their privacy at times, the viewer becomes thoroughly invested in the fate of the film's subjects. Watching the once strapping actor as he physically declines is a harrowing experience. But it's offset by the inspiration he and his family members provide as they face his all-too-early fate with dignity and strength.

Distributor: Be Here Now Productions
Production companies: Silver Lining Entertainment, TUGG, Be Here Now Productions
Director: Lilibet Foster
Producers: Lilibet Foster, Sam Maydew
Directors of photography: Phil Dow, Devris Hasan, Chris Herd, Anthony Jennings, Rakesh Nagar, Matt Porwell, Adrian Reinhardt
Editor: David menses
Composers: Gareth Williams, Craig DeLeon Human

Not rated, 110 minutes