The Moorside, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews
The Moorside, BBC One
The Moorside, BBC One
Sheridan Smith excels in the story of the missing girl who wasn't really missing
It takes a certain kind of perversity to make a true-life drama about a missing girl (Shannon Matthews) who wasn’t missing at all – the danger is that drama will be the only thing that’s missing. Neil McKay’s answer to the problem is to take a leaf out of Shane Meadows’s book of tricks and treat the whole sorry affair as a black comedy.
The Moorside takes us back to the housing estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, that became so familiar in the winter of 2008 when the nation’s media descended upon it in search of the truth behind the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl. What they found – a gallery of fond grotesques performing desperate antics – was remarkably similar to those shown by Meadows in Sheffield, West Yorkshire, in his series This Is England.
Karen increasingly resembles Vicky Pollard
Are these people the scum of the earth, as rabid readers of the Daily Mail would put it, or the salt of it, as sentimental readers of The Guardian would like to believe? The answer seems to be a bit of both.
Shannon’s mother Karen Matthews (Gemma Whelan) was first seen receiving a certificate from the council for good parenting. Oh, the irony! She couldn’t even remember how many kids she has – six or seven? – but does know three of them live with their respective fathers. It was immediately clear that she is still a kid herself and in no way capable of cooking up a scam to gain such recognition and respect as that earned by the mother of Madeleine McCann. What she and her co-conspirator really want is money – and lots of it.
Karen behaves very oddly for a grieving mother: dancing to a ringtone on a copper’s phone, grinning at the head of a march for her missing daughter. She increasingly resembles Vicky Pollard. You keep waiting for her to say, “Yeah but nobbut…”
The star of the show, in every way, is actually Karen’s friend Julie Bushby (Sheridan Smith). She is far more concerned about Shannon’s welfare – not only organising, much to the annoyance of the police, a separate search of the area (pictured below) but also handling the media with more skill. Her fierce belief in community spirit blinds her to the possibility that some of her neighbours are sods. One charming gentleman offers reporters a feel of his “wife’s tits, a fiver a go”.
Julie becomes so involved in Shannon’s survival that she neglects her own son, leaving a friendly cop to cook his tea. Smith’s bloated face and gutsy performance hint at the bruises beneath Julie’s defiant stance. No doubt we’ll learn her backstory in the second and final part next week.She certainly has a lot to be defiant about, though. The local community centre, a victim of cutbacks, is temporarily reopened with a grant of £300. The implication is that if a fraction of the cost of the massive police operation had been spent on the Moorside in the first place it would not have turned into an estate where the only authority recognised is that inner voice forever demanding alcohol and drugs (rather downplayed here). Karen’s nerdy partner, Craig Meehan (Tom Hanson), feeling neglected, makes a feeble attempt to OD on Calpol. Julie, full of tough love, simply bashes him.
Director Paul Whittington contrasts the wide-open moors with the cramped and overcrowded semis where such appetites are transiently sated. Twangy guitar music suggests we should pity those forced to live under the sodium glare of such benefits streets. A message from Shannon, found under peeling wallpaper in her shared bedroom, does pluck the heartstrings: “I want to live with my dad.”
The comedy, though, is what makes you keep watching in a mixture of amusement and horror. Julie, releasing geese into her muddy back garden, cries: “Go earn a living!” Slumming it can be fun, but a nagging suspicion arises that it’s not only the time of the police that is being wasted here. Perhaps the second part will tell us something we don’t already know.
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