“The Moorside”, a compelling and engrossing drama of about the kidnapping of a 9-year-old in Dewsbury in 2008, started in a manner that suggested a quality about the portrayal of working class life that soap dramas in Britain – “proclaimed by the founders of Coronation Street” as being about ordinary people – don’t have. Effective action, tight dialogue, solving problems, caring for each other, not portraying the abduction of a child, or her torture; none of that fake misunderstanding (“you what?”, “I don’t believe it!”) to contrive the extension of a plot to pad out 3 episodes a week.
(Most underplayed is when an officer reports that the existence of the partner’s uncle is discovered, and that’s he got previous for child kidnap, the women detective says “interesting” in a flat northern manner.)
In part 1, this brevity is because the focus of the drama was about a mother, her most supportive neighbour and a community champion. Understanding that the mother finds life harder than most, a community champion frustrated that the Police only want to treat the search for a missing child as a murder case and a neighbour who time and again helps out but her proximity and insight leads her to believe the mother is culpable.
Which in real life she was. The child was found after 24 days, at the home of an in-law not mentioned to the Police, who might even be the mother’s new boyfriend. A court case that decided Karen had been part of a conspiracy for reward money. Conjectures too – not sure of the veracity – that she had crossed a line in how she cared for her children (drugs, violence). A Police spokesperson’s description of the mother as “pure evil”.
From part 2, an alternative opinion to the Police & court findings. That the mother was weak, had come to despise her partner and wanted out, that the new boyfriend would take the daughter from the swimming baths and she’d bring the rest of the kids later, except the partner had not gone to work as expected, and that the mother buckled under in-law pressure to report her missing and could not find a way to explain what was really happening.
The story became about child sex abuse damaging lives (the neighbour, the community leader and the mother (implied)), and driving responses to the threat of abuse (from the partner), oh and the community becoming a lynch mob.
All given authority by credits saying the programme was based on extensive research.
How to know what to believe? The court case findings or the tv researchers’.
Meanwhile, the drama did not end up being a champion for the local people. The community champion have a teenage daughter becoming a Mum and the eldest lad suspended. Residents never shown working, or to and from work, becoming a hate mob. “You’ve not changed anything …” says one resident (in a mobility scooter), “they still think we’re all council house scum …”.
(As an aside, the council is portrayed as having unreasonably closed a community centre, their officers slightly apart, and the provision of a home zone for the estate mocked by the painting of the two words on a road in the filming location. No role for the local councillors, or any recognition of the significant contribution of the local Asian community in the search.)
Very mixed views about the drama. Compelling viewing, some great lines, some great acting. But not taking any opportunity to dispel the notion of “broken” that David Cameron was implied to have been wrong to say in the programme (and for which he went on to apologise for).
But, whether right or wrong in its conclusions, a very real warning that a significant proportion of people have been abused as children, that only a small proportion of this report the abuse, and only a small proportion of those reported are convicted; and that the implications of all the abuse for society are still not fully understood.