Review

9th December 2011 at 00:00

The Real Thumbelina will be shown on ITV1 at 9pm on 12 December

Life in miniature

Amelie's clothes span a few sizes. A pink skirt, for example, is for three to six-month-olds. Her favourite top is for ages up to three months.

Amelie is four years old.

She has Russell-Silver syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects growth. And she and her parents are the subjects of The Real Thumbelina, a one-off documentary to be screened on ITV1.

Because Russell-Silver children often have minimal appetites, Amelie's doctors insert a feeding tube, attached to a portable pump, which will drip milk into her colon for 20 hours a day.

The bag containing the pump is almost the same size as Amelie. While she runs around at nursery, a succession of teachers must therefore trail behind her, like rucksack-toting bridesmaids. "You know we're always there for you, don't you?" one of the teachers says, when Amelie leaves for Reception. The teacher is in tears; so is Amelie's mother. The viewer is not far off.

Amelie's parents decide to take her to be seen by a leading Russell-Silver specialist in Chicago. Amelie responds to this news with a drawn-out "Woooooooooooow!"

Her projected future is highlighted in the form of 37-year-old Zillah, who is 4ft 2in. We first encounter Zillah scanning through butterfly-bedecked sandals in the children's section of Clarks. Zillah has a pierced nose, a pierced chin and a bat tattooed on her shoulder. "That's not bad," her mother says, pointing at a black pair. "It's patent," Zillah sniffs.

We also meet six-year-old Ollie, currently the same size as her two-year-old brother. Ollie's mother is attempting to reconcile the doctor's recommendation that Ollie take growth hormones with her daughter's fear of needles.

While the viewer might see this as no dilemma at all, Ollie's mother meets Zillah in an attempt to see whether it is possible to lead a happy life without growth hormones. "Would you rather your child blended in or are you happy with who she is?" Zillah says, slightly too aggressively. Ollie's mother emerges even more confused.

But this is the documentary's strength: it does not form judgments, but instead allows space for the parents' anxieties and concerns to emerge. Ultimately, the viewer is left with an impression of parents who - confronted with a rare and often upsetting condition - merely want to do the best for their children.

Back in Halifax, it is Amelie's first day at primary school. Her mother takes photographs as Amelie poses in her specially made uniform. Then she turns to the camera and smiles. "She just looks so grown up!"

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