From the realism of Basil Wright’s early documentaries through 1960’s kitchen sink dramas to this brutal, unmissable BBC three-part miniseries, Three Girls proves British drama has never been one to duck serious issues.
I tend to watch and write about American drama and while I know it inside out, I honestly don’t know if America produces this kind of dramatised programming or whether I just never see it because it’s, quite rightly, un-exportable.
While Making A Murderer was an unparalleled documentary event, slick dramatisations like The People vs O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story don’t even scratch the surface of this visceral, harsh realism.
Influenced by the Italian neo-realists, the plays, scripts and dramas of 1950’s and 60’s writers and directors Alan Sillitoe, Tony Richardson, Keith Waterhouse, John Schlesinger and John Osbourne have long taught us that it’s grim up north.
Cycling through the decades, add Alan Bleasdale’s Boys from the Blackstuff, Peter Flannery’s Our Friends in the North, Paul Abbott’s Shameless, Jimmy McGovern’s hard-hitting Cracker and Hillsborough and most recently, Sally Wainwright’s excellent Happy Valley and you have a list of BAFTA winning northern drama longer than a strip of Greater Manchester Police crime scene tape.
But nothing prepared me for this…
I don’t want to reveal too much about plot of the mini-series over and above the press release summay blurb. Filmed in Bristol, Three Girls is the true story of three… (to avoid repetition, I want to say young women but they weren’t – they were girls) who were groomed, sexually abused and trafficked by British Pakistani men in Rochdale and of the failure of the police and social service authorities.
It is the most powerful drama I have seen in a long, long time. Last year’s movie A Monster Calls left me an emotional wreck but that was at the hands of nature – cancer – something that couldn’t be avoided. This was totally preventable – gangs of evil men savagely and viciously exploiting children.
In addition to Nicole Taylor’s script perfectly capturing the barely teenage northern girls’ voices, it perfetly portrays their vulnerability, resent and abandonment before, during and after the awful events.
Not only did I cry through a large proportion of the three hour screentime but I was actually talking to the characters throughout; imploring… nay, pleading “Please no. Don’t do it, Holly” before unleashing another tsunamis of tears.
The performances of the three young actresses were an inspiration – in fact, upon finishing watching, I was compelled to do something I’ve never done before – tweet a message the lead actress to tell her:Liv Hill’s uncanny portrayal of 13-year-old Ruby (who has learning difficulties) was sobering.
Ria Zmitrowicz as her rebellious sister Amber was mesmerising while Molly Windsor’s portrayal of protagonist Holy Winshaw was nothing short of miraculous but it’s the real Three Girls, the real victims who went through this evil that need commending.
As Molly’s father states near the end of the final episode – he has so much respect for his daughter’s bravery. And so do I. They honestly deserve medals.
Philippa Lowthorpe’s considered, tactful direction tears your heart asunder for these girls as she surely pushed the young actresses and supporting cast to their limits.
Ex-comedian Paul Kaye as Holly’s father, Maxine Peake (above, in the window hatch) as Sara, the sexual health worker whose evidence was ignored by police for almost a decade and former soap and video-blooper show host Lisa Riley as Ruby and Amber’s mother were all jaw-droppingly superb.
If ever a story needed telling, it is this one. For all your missteps, for every time you let Miranda Sawyer and Mrs Brown and White Gold regress comedy back by forty years, the BBC pulls a true-life drama like Three Girls out of the bag to remind us what you are capable of.
THIS quality of programming is what I (don’t) pay my TV Licence Fee for.
Three Girls has left BBC iPlayer but is available somewhere to torrent. Find it. Watch it.