This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 20 May 2017.
THREE GIRLS: Tuesday to Thursday, BBC One
A TIME TO LIVE: Wednesday, BBC Two
KAT AND ALFIE: REDWATER: Thursday, BBC One
Unflinching, furious, despairing, THREE GIRLS told the horrifying true story of the Rochdale child sex abuse ring.
Over several years, a group of men, most of them British Pakistanis, groomed and raped vulnerable working-class schoolgirls. The local police failed to thoroughly investigate their crimes, allegedly due to fears of appearing racist.
This outstanding drama, shown over three consecutive nights, was a damning indictment of a systematic failure to protect abused children.
Based on extensive research, interviews and public accounts, it focused on three of the victims – their names changed for obvious reasons – as well as the whistleblowing NHS sexual health worker (Maxine Peake) and the sympathetic senior police officer (Lesley Sharp) who treated them with the respect they deserved.
Their ordeal didn’t end with the abuse; the trauma continued when they struggled to defend themselves in court.
Their abusers exploited the fact that working-class kids with chaotic lives tend to be ignored and mistrusted by the authorities. As Peake’s character angrily observed, these girls were repeatedly “raped, beaten, not believed.”
She embodied the sense of righteous compassion which coursed through writer Nicole Taylor’s sensitive screenplay. Her sterling work was bolstered by a superb cast, including three extraordinary young actresses who never appeared to be acting at all. The raw power of Three Girls was largely drawn from their entirely natural performances.
Peake and Sharp were typically great – their belief in this material was palpable – but special mention must go to Paul Kaye as the father of one of the victims. His quietly devastating performance proved just how far he’s come since his Dennis Pennis days.
Inevitably, this scandal played into the hands of Britain’s thriving bigot community. Taylor tackled that unfortunate side-effect while reminding us that the crown prosecutor who brought the case to trial was a British Pakistani.
The BBC should be applauded for devoting three hours of primetime to such uncomfortable territory.
It’s a drama to be spoken of in the same vital breath as Cathy Come Home.
How would you cope if you were given a terminal diagnosis? Would you rail against the cruel injustice of it all, or would you choose to make the most of the limited time you had left?
These difficult questions formed the basis of A TIME TO LIVE, the latest film from one of TV’s finest documentarians, Sue Bourne.
If you’re familiar with Bourne’s work - and you should be – then you’ll appreciate her talent for gently coaxing candid, eloquent testimonies from particularly vulnerable people. No one is ever exploited in a Bourne documentary, she earns their trust without manipulation.
This tender essay was characteristically honest and moving.
Being of sound, if jaded, mind, I assumed that EastEnders spin-off KAT AND ALFIE: REDWATER would be even less appetising than the dreary soap it sprang from.
Well, imagine my vaguely pleasant surprise when it turned out to be a stylish, intriguing drama wreathed in shades of Nordic Noir (the Danish director numbers Borgen among his credits).
We’re definitely not in Albert Square any more.
Written by Matthew Graham of Life on Mars repute (we won't mention Bonekickers), it follows the Moons as they relocate to a conspicuously lyrical Irish coastal village in pursuit of Kat’s long-lost son. A somewhat unsettling, edgy aura dominates; Ballykissangel with a hint of Royston Vasey.
It’s unexpectedly entertaining, and works because familiarity with EastEnders isn’t necessary. Despite the Moon connection, it exists in a different universe.
Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie are such likeable performers, they were always too good for EastEnders. This is the vehicle they deserve.