Vul­ner­a­bil­ity, vin­di­ca­tion and ve­rac­ity of three ex­traor­di­nary girls

Se­crets, lies and dis­trust abound in the BBC’s har­row­ing drama

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Peter Crawley

Based on events that were all too har­row­ingly real, Three Girls ( BBC One, Tues­day, Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day, 9pm) presents its cre­den­tials in in­sis­tent ti­tles: “This is a true story . . . based on ex­ten­sive re­search.” It’s as though the pro­gramme it­self has grown anx­ious that, how­ever sin­cerely it makes its case, it may still not be be­lieved.

That, the mak­ers know, would be just a faint echo of the in­sult that fol­lowed in­juries en­dured by the three girls of its ti­tle (and a dis­tress­ing num­ber more). In Rochdale, Manch­ester, in 2008, they were groomed to be­come part of a child sex ring and traf­ficked through the coun­try. When they had the temer­ity to re­port their rapes, they were dis­trusted, blamed and left to lan­guish.

Faced with a three- part drama, broad­cast on suc­ces­sive, som­bre nights, some will find the gath­er­ing de­spair of its first episode too much to bear. That would be a shame. Be­cause while time seems to slow as writer Ni­cole Tay­lor and di­rec­tor Philippa Lowthorpe build up an ex­haus­tive, trau­matic his­tory, this is a story of in­ex­haustible sup­port and in­es­timable brav­ery.

Two of i ts real- l i fe cru­saders, the per­cep­tive sex­ual health worker Sara Row­botham ( a tena­cious Max­ine Peake) and the per­se­ver­ing Det Con Mar­garet Oliver ( an af­fect­ing, un­der­stated Les­ley Sharp) acted as con­sul­tants on the show. Yet its emo­tional ve­rac­ity comes down to three ex­traor­di­nary per­for­mances from its young leads. The first, so sub­tle and shift­ing you for­get it is a per­for­mance at all, is from Molly Wind­sor as the teenager, Holly. Adrift in a new town she falls in with Ria Zmitrow­icz’s seem­ingly street- smart Am­ber and her trust­ing sis­ter Ruby ( Liv Hill), takes to drink­ing and hang­ing around a lo­cal ke­bab shop, un­til the seamy men who ply them with booze de­mand sex in re­turn.

The preva­lence of rape in tele­vi­sion drama is as de­press­ing as its triv­i­al­i­sa­tion, but Lowthorpe’s han­dling is un­com­monly sober. She lets a woozy cam­era fix on frac­tured de­tails – a bed­room clock, a fallen shoe, Wind­sor’s pained face – as though the mem­ory was al­ready frag­ment­ing in shock and con­fu­sion. Other or­deals are just as grave: a boor­ish in­ter­view with police, dig­ging into the 15-year-old’s sex­ual his­tory in the pres­ence of her fa­ther ( a rev­e­la­tory Paul Kaye); an au­to­mat­i­cally sham­ing so­cial ser­vices in­ter­view when she gets preg­nant; and, per­haps most hor­ri­fy­ingly, an un­der­stand­ing of how the girls be­come their own jail­ers un­der sys­tem­atic ma­nip­u­la­tion. Recorded by her “boyfriend” danc­ing naked, Ruby blandly an­nounces, “Now I’m fa­mous in Pak­istan.”

Here is where the pro­gramme, giv­ing the per­sua­sive power of im­ages to an al­ready sen­sa­tional media story, recog­nises its own po­ten­tial to rouse moral panic. “Old Asian men. Vul­ner­a­ble young girls. It’s hap­pen­ing again,” sum­marises Sara, not in­ac­cu­rately. Race does be­come an is­sue, but it is hardly the whole story. Courage comes from telling the whole story and vin­di­ca­tion comes from hav­ing it heard. It is com­pli­cated and vi­tal, nei­ther pure nor sim­ple, the truth, the whole truth and noth­ing but the truth. The Spring Equinox is a big deal in

Red­wa­ter ( RTÉ, Sun­day, 9.30pm), a small Ir­ish sea­side town fes­ter­ing with se­crets. Or so new­com­ers Kat ( Jessie Wal­lace) and Al­fie ( Shane Richie) are told. Com­ing west in search of an­swers, in this spin- off, the ami­able EastEn­ders cou­ple might won­der what has hap­pened to St Pa­trick’s Day. In­stead, they find fancy- dress fun runs, street car­ni­val games and food stalls – the typ­i­cal di­ver­sions of a vil­lage fête. Kat and Al­fie have found them­selves in a very Bri­tish idea of Ire­land.

“We thought we’d burn an out­sider in a big wicker goat,” dead­pans the en­joy­ably sus­pi­cious Fion­nu­ala Flana­gan, as ma­tri­arch Agnes. Kat i s search­ing for her long- miss­ing son, but her quest is slowed by na­tive dis­trust and a mine­field of Ir­ish clichés. Al­fie, for ex­am­ple, must push his bro­ken-down taxi in the first sign of charm­ing, Bal­lykissan­gel- grade back­ward­ness. Later he is ac­cepted by the lo­cals by down­ing his Guin­ness in one gulp, while Kat in­gra­ti­ates her­self with whiskey chasers and a lusty ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Ir­ish blar­ney. “I love the way you talk,” she tells Ian McEl­hin­ney’s honey-tongued grand­fa­ther, Lance, a man who trav­els ev­ery­where by horse in a cos­tume last seen on Clint East­wood.

Be­hind the gre­gar­i­ous ban­ter, though, lurks a sor­did his­tory that no­body men­tions. This, of course, is the 1997 EastEnd- ers episode that de­picted Ire­land as a land of ma­raud­ing live­stock and drunken louts, for which the BBC later apol­o­gised. Red­wa­ter’s car­i­ca­tures, though, are petty in­of­fen­sive, wrapped in self- ef­fac­ing irony. In­stead, the ques­tion is whether you can prop­erly in­vest in Kat and Al­fie, whose mi­gra­tion from Al­bert Square to Red­wa­ter is not quite as chal­leng­ing as their mi­gra­tion from soap opera to drama.

In Der­mot ( Oisín Stack), though, a 33- year- old hip­ster priest, we find the show’s most un­likely char­ac­ter, and the show set­tles into a more recog­nis­able idea of Ir­ish peo­ple warped by re­li­gion.

Shot in muted hues and pale light which make its real lo­ca­tion, Dun­more East, look es­pe­cially serene. Red­wa­ter is a pe­cu­liar cross­over, some­where be­tween Bri­tain and Ire­land, soap and drama, and, so far, nei­ther here nor there.

There’s some­thing about Dick. A near par­ody of un­re­con­structed machismo, he is a cow­boy, artist, aca­demic and is played by Kevin Ba­con. When a fraz­zled New York cou­ple, Chris ( Kathryn Hahn) and Syl­vere (Grif­fin Dunne), be­come res­i­dents at his Texas desert cam­pus he proudly in­forms them: “I haven’t read a book in 10 years. I’m post-idea.”

In I Love Dick (now stream­ing on Ama­zon Prime), a new com­edy from Trans­par­ent’s Jill Soloway based on Chris Krause’s con­fes­sional cult novel, it’s hard to tell whether this post-idea par­a­digm is Dick’s tri­umph or his tragedy. Is Dick also post-clue? Ei­ther way, he be­comes a blank screen for film-maker Chris’s erotic pro­jec­tions. Her mar­riage to Syl­vere, a preen­ing, older Holo­caust scholar (“There’s some­thing new afoot,” he says, rather hope­fully), has reached a sex­ual im­passe, and they de­cide to let Dick come be­tween them.

Soloway is no stranger to the politics of gen­der and de­sire, but I Love Dick is too arch for its own good. Tak­ing pot shots at pre­ten­tious aca­demics is easy enough, but meaner ones are slung at fe­male film artists, while Chris’s ob­ses­sions are played less as fem­i­nist lib­er­a­tion, more for mor­ti­fy­ing laughs.

Dick, more­over, is pre­cisely that: in­sult­ing, dis­in­ter­ested, self-in­volved. In one as­pect, Chris is on top, and a later episode in which four fe­male char­ac­ters im­part their own take on Dick, as­serts that sly cre­ative power. In their thoughts of Dick, lu­bri­ciously or ag­gres­sively ar­tic­u­lated, the women un­leash vivid in­ter­nal lives, while Ba­con’s Dick, all slick sur­face, is im­pen­e­tra­ble. Be­sides that, there’s not much else to of­fer. As the Dicks of the world might put it, it’s post-idea.

‘‘ Kat is search­ing for her miss­ing son, but her quest is slowed by na­tive dis­trust and a mine­field of Ir­ish clichés

Molly Wind­sor, Liv Hill, Max­ine Peake and Ria Zmitrow­icz in Three Girls

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