sat 24/08/2019

One Child, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

One Child, BBC Two

One Child, BBC Two

Drama starring Katie Leung about abuses of the Chinese legal system lacks fire

Katie Leung and Sebastian So as long-lost siblings in 'One Child'

Last year China began formally to phase out the one-child policy which had been in place since 1979. So a drama called One Child arrives at the right time. It forms the least worshipful component of the BBC’s current China season, which mainly interests itself in food and history. Its focus is in fact not on the ruinous psychological and economic consequences for a nation of only children. Instead the drama deals with another contemporary Chinese ill: the corruption of the legal process by power and money.

The irony of the title is that Liu Ying (Mardy Ma), the mother in the drama, has in fact had two children. But as the first was a girl the father put her up for adoption. She then went on to have a boy called Li Jun (Sebastian So). Spool forward 20 years and the adopted girl Mei (Katie Leung) has grown up English – her surname is Ashley and her parents are middle-class academics, while she is studying astrophysics. One day she is contacted by a journalist in China who asks her to intervene in the case of the brother of whose existence she was hitherto ignorant: he has been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

So without telling her parents the real reason for her trip, Mei flies to China and meets her birth mother. There is no connection with her, nor even eye contact, and she is all for coming home until she meets her brother in prison. His youth, and ability to speak implausibly good English, establishes a bond, and she decides to stay and help.

One Child comes at the issue of Chinese justice from a pragmatic international perspective. The victim whose murder Li Jun witnessed outside a nightclub is Nigerian, while the intervention of Mei adds a further complication (and her adoptive mother is American to boot). It gives the western viewer a pathway in – and no doubt helped with funding – but you find yourself nodding in agreement with the British consular official who advises her to keep her nose out of other people’s business. Even the brother’s own lawyer scoffs on noodles and nonchalantly says it’s a hopeless case, so it’s up to a group called the Citizens’ Justice Movement to take up arms.

Whether One Child will turn out to be about the persecution of human-rights lawyers remains to be seen. As drama it has the feel of a didactic international co-production about a naïve westerner trapped in the coils of the mystifying orient. Leung, who hawk-eyed Pottermaniacs will remember as Harry’s love interest, delivers a performance that is not quite flesh and blood, leaving room for doubt when she says she has jetlag and her period. The script is carefully laced with clanking ironies. “You will be safe, I promise,” says her father. It is from the pen of Guy Hibbert, who visited the subject of adoption in Asia 20 years ago in Saigon Baby. It may become more gripping, but at the moment it has the bloodless flavour of an illustrated lecture.

As drama it has all the feel of a didactic international co-production


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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