A Nuanced Portrayal of Crime and Prejudice

© Supplied
Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby in The Moorside.

A Break in Transmission: 11th February 2017


ROOTS: Wednesday, BBC Four

Sheridan Smith in The Moorside (Copyright BBC)

When nine-year-old Shannon Matthews went missing in 2008, the media descended upon her Yorkshire council estate.

Her mother, Karen Matthews, wasn’t as conveniently middle-class as the parents of Madelaine McCann, but the nation donated its sympathies anyway. We’re magnanimous like that.

As we now know, Karen abducted her own daughter in cahoots with a male relative. Inspired by the financial rewards surrounding the discovery of Maddie, they hid terrified Shannon with the intention of eventually ‘finding’ her and enjoying their payday.

When the truth was revealed, the usual suspects had a field day. An unmarried, uneducated working-class mother on benefits who exploited her own child for media attention and scrounging remuneration? Typical!

Well no. Obviously. This was hardly a typical case, as THE MOORSIDE made clear.

Produced by the team behind acclaimed factual dramas about the likes of Fred West and Myra Hindley, this sensitive – if occasionally didactic – drama seized upon this story to critique our dismally polarised society.

It focused on the compassionate grass-roots search for Shannon organised by neighbour Julie Bushby (Sheridan Smith), a fellow single mother who sympathised with the trauma that Karen was supposedly going through.

Sian Brooke, Sheridan Smith and Gemma Whelan in The Moorside (Copyright BBC)

It’s the story of a so-called underclass fighting for its right to be respected as a close-knit community who, abandoned and demonised by the media and ruling elite, sought to prove themselves as dignified human beings.

Their betrayal by Karen Matthews – who made fools of them all – may have proved a point to morons who’ve never expressed a nuanced thought in their lives, but The Moorside illustrates how basic human decency, however misplaced, is more important than knee-jerk generalisations.

Karen’s actions were unforgivably cruel, and The Moorside doesn’t try to excuse them. But it also portrays her as a pitiful person whose weakness wasn’t formed in a vacuum.

Smith is typically excellent, but Gemma Whelan as Karen is quite outstanding. Yes, she occasionally mugs too comically when caught in the glare of her deceit, but her performance is gut-wrenching in episode two.

I hope Katie Hopkins is forced to watch it endlessly, Clockwork Orange-style.

Based on author Alex Haley’s semi-fictionalised account of his family history, the classic 1977 miniseries ROOTS played a landmark role in confronting a mass audience with the horrors of slavery.

Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte in Roots (Copyright The History Channel)

It remains one of the key texts in the teaching of African-American history and western civilisation’s shameful legacy of racist tyranny. You only have to look at Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants to appreciate its ongoing relevance.

Which is why, for once, a remake doesn’t feel redundant. Like the oral histories upon which it was based, Haley’s epic saga demands to be retold.

It’s reasonable to assume that many, if not most, younger viewers will be unfamiliar with the ‘70s original, so this new adaptation will be their introduction to the dramatic story of defiant Mandinka warrior Kunta Kinte and his descendants.

It isn’t a remake so much as a retelling mounted with modern production values.

While faithful to the source material, it sometimes deviates to significant effect. It’s more explicitly violent in ways I’m sure the original – which was hardly a walk in the park – would’ve depicted had such visceral imagery been permitted on ‘70s television.

Bolstered by impressive performances from English actor Malachi Kirby as Kunta, Scotland’s own Tony Curran as a sadistic plantation overseer, and the estimable Forest Whitaker as an unsentimentally drawn yet pathos-riddled ‘court jester’, this well-made adaptation is powerful, moving and unflinching.



Monday, BBC One, 10:40pm

Brechin-born Christian Matlock works as an armed Bail Enforcement Agent in Virginia, USA. This intimate documentary reveals how his troubled past in Scotland has given him unique insight into the lives of the people he investigates.


Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm

Andrew Marr (Copyright BBC)

The esteemed political broadcaster discusses the life-threatening stroke he suffered in 2013. He reunites with the doctors who saved him and examines the cutting edge medical treatments and recovery challenges faced by every stroke patient.


Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm

Series two of this genial travelogue features another group of celebrities on a mission to find out whether retirement abroad is more rewarding than in the UK. Our India-bound explorers include Amanda Barrie, Lionel Blair, Rustie Lee and Bill Oddie.


Thursday, BBC Four, 9pm

Dan Renton Skinner in Notes on Blindness (Copyright Archer’s Mark)

This strikingly evocative docudrama tells the story of an Australian academic who went blind at the age of 45. Based on the hours of recordings he made in an attempt to make sense of the experience, it’s an often profound and occasionally funny meditation.



Monday, Film4, 11:20pm

Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller in Trainspotting (Copyright Film4)

With the long-awaited sequel currently in cinemas, it’s time to revisit the epoch-defining classic original from 1996. Based on Irvine Welsh’s scabrous novel about a gang of young Edinburgh junkies, it’s a wildly kinetic firework of a film in which black comedy and magic realism merge seamlessly with the harrowing realities of heroin addiction. Yet director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge never pass moral judgement. Ewan McGregor has never surpassed his performance as the film’s motor-mouthed antihero, while Robert Carlyle shot to stardom playing one of cinema’s most terrifying psychopaths.