How do you make a kidnap drama out of a story where everyone already knows the big twist ending?
The answer is you don’t make a kidnap drama at all, which is why The Moorside – Neil McKay’s chronicle of events surrounding the abduction of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews in 2008 – plays less like a thriller than a compelling slice of social history.
National treasure Sheridan Smith excels in the vanity-free role – all blotchy skin and puffy eyes – of Julie Bushby, the earthy, lion-hearted rough diamond who led the community search for Shannon after she went missing from The Moorside estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
She’s supported by a terrific, largely female cast, including Game of Thrones’ Gemma Wheelan, barely recognisable as Shannon’s childlike, blank-eyed mother Karen, who was eventually revealed to have colluded in her daughter’s kidnap. It’s a horribly convincing performance of someone giving a horribly convincing performance.
On one level, The Moorside is an unflinching portrait of people living wasted lives in an atomised community – not least Matthews’ boyfriend Craig Meehan (Tom Hanson), a feckless manchild who spends his days playing video games and who, in one blackly comic scene, tries to overdose on Calpol. Equally appalling are the members of Meehan’s extended family (including Shannon’s ‘sort of uncle’), who positively revel in the media attention, and are quick to turn every march and candlelit vigil into a boozy party.
But it’s also an estate full of proud, ferociously loyal people who, in Bushby’s words, ‘stand shoulder to shoulder with one another’. This is the side of The Moorside Prime Minister-in-waiting David Cameron failed to see when he described it as ‘a community whose pillars are crime, unemployment and addiction’, and it’s the side Bushby and her army of volunteers were determined to show the world.
When Shannon was found, the joy and relief on The Moorside turned into an impromptu street party, complete with fireworks. But I suspect the real fireworks will come in next week’s concluding episode, when the truth emerges of how Matthews betrayed Shannon – and her entire community.
The Good Karma Hospital
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel meets Holby City in this likeable new drama about a young English doctor (a star-making turn from Amrita Acharia) thrown in at the deep end at an underfunded cottage hospital in South India. Amanda Redman is typically fabulous as her tough-but-fair boss, while James Floyd is the pretty, brooding doctor with no patience for gap-year time-wasters (so they’ll definitely get together). Bringing a welcome blast of sunshine to the British winter, it has Sunday night smash written all over it.
Tracy Ullman’s Show
Tracy Ullman is a brilliant comic/mimic, her make-up team are incredible (I still have to do a double-take to check her ‘naughty Judi Dench’ isn’t the real thing) and the concepts behind some of her sketches – like the one this week where a woman on her deathbed lamented not spending enough time playing Candy Crush on her phone – have real potential. So why isn’t this funnier? If they could just hire someone to sharpen and fine-tune the gags, this would be a show worthy of its star’s name.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, February 9, 2017
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