Vulnerability, vindication and veracity of three extraordinary girls
Secrets, lies and distrust abound in the BBC’s harrowing drama
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