sat 20/07/2024

Stolen, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Stolen, BBC One

Stolen, BBC One

A drama about child trafficking is as much infomercial as procedural

Sporting a demotic accent, Damian Lewis talked softly to children and loudly to suspects

Mainstream television drama has always shone a searching beam into the Stygian murk of society’s ills. But however laudable its campaigning credentials, a drama’s first duty to its audience is to work as drama. Cathy Come Home changed the public perception of homelessness, unemployment acquired a catchphrase in Boys from the Black Stuff, and institutional racism met its match in The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.

But we know them first and foremost as great television. Last night Stolen tackled child trafficking, the pernicious growth industry annually accounting for the movement of £12 billion per annum and 1.2 million children. That’s what it said over the credits at the end. Whether the preceding 90 minutes shed much further light is open to question.

The drama featured three children trafficked to this country from various parts of the world. Innokentjis Vitkedvics (pictured below) gave a remarkable performance as Georgie, a feisty Ukrainian redhead with a ponytail who whooped with delight as he arrived in London, only to find himself working as an unpaid skivvy in a hostel for the homeless. Kim Pak (Huy Pham) from Vietnam was effectively imprisoned in a suburban house that doubled as a marijuana plantation. And at the heart of the drama was Rosemary (Gloria Oyewumi), a Nigerian stripling initially found by the police and placed in a foster home, only to escape and call her traffickers as instructed on pain of death.

Damian Lewis sporting a crewneck and a demotic accent played DI Carter, the cop tasked with bringing culprits to justice, principally the suave Nigerian slaver (Nonso Anozie) who sold Rosemary into domestic slavery for £4000. To do so he had to emit trustworthiness and righteousness in equal portions, which in Lewis’s case meant talking very softly to children and very loudly to suspects.

stolen1To raise the emotional stakes, and give him a personal stake in the unfolding narrative, Stephen Butchard’s script gave DI Carter his own young daughter and flirted with the idea of having her kidnapped and your intelligence insulted. That it turned out not to happen was a mercy, but as bait she still had her dramatic uses. When Anozie was called in for questioning he seemed bafflingly happy to make do without a lawyer as he swatted away accusations. Then for some inexplicable reason he decided to threaten Carter’s daughter (“I believe you too have a little girl”) causing Carter to ignite, twice. Perhaps traffickers make such threats to the police in real life. They probably tend to do it more often after the watershed on BBC One.

The two supporting subplots were included largely to illustrate by bullet point the various potential outcomes in trafficking cases. Georgie, whose case entirely evaded the police’s radar, was thrown onto the street and, after railing at a statue of Queen Victoria and crying heartrending tears, was casually and implausibly knifed by a passing schoolkid. Kim Pak refused to blow the whistle on his boss and was free to disappear into society. As for Rosemary, she was rescued as a Somali former sex slave chose to testify against her trafficker. By the end you knew an awful lot more about child trafficking and, thanks to some eyecatching performances from young actors, the terror experienced by its victims. But in a drama (directed by Justin Chadwick) that didn’t quite know if it was a propulsive thriller or a laudable infomercial, you were nowhere near the edge of your seat.

The two supporting subplots were included largely to illustrate by bullet point the various potential outcomes in trafficking cases

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As someone who works within the field of tackling serious and organised crime I disagree with Mr Rees comments. I believe that you would have to have a very cold, hardened heart to not have been moved or left on tenterhooks by the scenarios portrayed in this drama. Admittedly, the restrictive running time of 90 minutes in which to fairly represent the three victims' scenarios meant that some storylines were cut short too hastily. I also refuse to believe - and found the suggestion unfair - that not one passer-by would rush to the aid of a distraught or injured child. However, in a world where so much time, attention and budget (police and TV!) is dedicated to drugs trafficking, it was an important and timely move to depict an alternative form of serious and destructive crime, which all too often slips under the radar... For the police and TV...

Completely disagree with Jasper Rees' review. I thought Stolen was a well-made drama given running time constraints. I was especially moved by Georgie's story and cannot get the poor child out of my head. It broke my heart to see the little boy so upset by the statue of Queen Victoria. Being implausibly knifed by feral schoolkids is an everyday occurence in Britain so good on Justin Chadwick for contrasting the determination and grit of foreign youth to our homegrown trash. Superb performances from the child actors.

I thought the show tried to show different scenario's as well as it could in the time allowed and certainly felt the tension in the script.The children's ability to act was a credit to them. Although I have helped a child obviously lost in a shopping centre by taking her to the help desk where an ungrateful parent soon arrived to collect her. 30 years ago as a young foreigner, I was crying distraught on the underground trying to get to a hospital where I thought someone I knew could help me. I had had surgery and been in there for two months. (My G.P was trying to take advantage of me while I was having a breakdown after having an operation and learning I had five years to live and worried if I died without telling my brothers my father had abused me for years that their future children would be at risk.) I was aware enough in the fog of my mind to notice people were watching but the only one who approached me was a dirty old drunk intend on attacking me, I broke in to a run when I heard his breath and odd predatory laugh near the back of me.All the people had gone as my movements had up until than been so slow. It felt like I was being hunted because I was aware he had picked me out of the crowd because I was vulnerable. The nurse I wanted to speak to was away. So yes unfortunately I do think people could ignore a crying child. I was 21 but looked about 16 at the time. I also walked in to a wall in the office where I worked and when I tried to talk I wasn't making much sense instead of helping me the girl I spoke to just told the other girls and I was avoided. I got through the time by concentrating on my work as I did not want to end up in a mental hospital after already having been ill for many months.

I must disagree with some of these comments. I thought the young actor playing Georgie was astonishing (and for the record said so, twice). But his character's murder was no more than a necessary dramatic convenience. It was neither organic or believable. A child sticks a knife into another passing child on a British scene without the slightest provocation or motive or even a backward glance? Sorry, however dim a view you take of our mean streets, that is not plausible and it certainly isn't an everyday occurrence.

I agree with Mr Rees. I was watching from an "I want to be entertained point of view". Part of the Original British Drama Season which has had the excellent Shadow Line and the continuing brilliance of Luther. Stolen was dull in the extreme. If they had spent more time on the script rather than the arty shots of lighting through blinds, silhouettes etc etc it may have been better. The copper correcting his daughter during a "guess the person game" when she said Nelson Mandela and he said "thats Mr Mandela to you young lady" or something utterly PC. Yuk what utter rubbish. Any programme that finishes with a quote from Nelson Madela would as I expect, have been a propaganda exercise. I cry easily when a programme or film moves me but this one did not. This was not great Original British Drama. I didn't even think it was England, let alone Britain. Yes Britain is going downhill and morals decline daily but this was arty dumbing down of a very serious subject. An excellent cast were wasted on a bland and dull storyline, an inane script and a director more interested in lighting than anything else. The only stars were the kids. It really wouldn't surprise me if this is the sort of rubbish that could win a Bafta, when only the lad playing Georgie should be anywhere near a nomination. Excellent performance but sadly in such a poor programme.

Greetings, I have the inside track on this. I am the cop that Damian Lewis consulted with. I ran the Human Trafficking Team in London for four years until the Metropolitan Police closed it...even when it was heralded as the centre of excellence when dealing with Trafficked victims. Go figure!! I wasn't sure about a couple of scenes....Georgie's death one of them but the rest of the stories were very true to life and focused well on the victims story. This could easily have been a three part drama but I think it would have lost the impact. Well done BBC.

After complaining for years about the quality of TV drama, poorly shot with no original direction, 'Stolen' placed the viewer where their imagination needed to do much of the work. This turned what could have been a mundane tale of gangs versus cops, into a world of things we had never seen before. The shots were thought provoking and immersed the viewer into the world of the child in question. The script was minimal, working perfectly with the over-all feel and pace of the story, and allowed the three stories to intertwine seamlessly. Focusing mainly on the children was a stroke of genius, and prevented this drama from falling into another detective show. This drama was full of imagery and metaphore, most noticeably the death of Georgie. It is unlikely that he would have been randomly stabbed by a passing youth, but at the start of the sequence he was thrown into the street, shoeless, wandering, crying with no one to turn to. No one helped him then and his death was a crescendo of hopelessness, with passers by seemingly blinkered. The script pointed out that he had not been found until morning, but in the scene we clearly see feet and ankles blurring past his last moments. This was brilliantly executed, all thoughts and emotions portrayed with almost no script whatsoever. I look forward to seeing more from Justin Chadwick.

Well I'm certainly never going to buy a sandwich in a service station ever again.....

Mixed feelings about this one. Will agree that the just about film stayed in the realm of drama and away from the pulpit, i.e. "and you think you have the right to complain about rising interest rates when there is so much evil in the world?" The child actors were excellent - I work with children in crisis and I believe that Chadwick fully understood the wall that a child will build around him or herself for self protection. I will admit that the children who played Rosemary and Georgie in particular were amazing - if there was any heart strings to be plucked in this film, it is due to these performances. However, I must agree that the random attack on Georgie was a little far-fetched, unnecessarily steering the plot towards melodrama. His story could have been more effectively wound up with him crying, shoeless, coatless and abandoned on the bridge, thereby allowing the audience to really use their collective imagination. Furthermore, the odd juxtaposition of Carter's pristine domestic life against that of the children's did not underscore the disparity of social inclusion, but rather made the whole thing feel like it might have been conceived by Aaron Sorkin after a U2 concert....... Also, the character of Carter was grossly under-developed and predictable. So was Lewis, usually a very dependable actor but sadly acting-by-numbers here. I dunno - were Carter a male version of Det. Insp. Jane Tennison would the film have been any better? Hard to say, given its 89-min run-time. However, I feel a little wanting after watching 'Stolen'. But the fact that I can still see Rosemary's haunted little face means that the film achieved what it hoped to.

I made the Facebook page so it may be in your "likes"!/pages/Stolen-2011/113948998725748

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