Abduction drama for TV

Sheridan Smith (in orange coat) in the acclaimed, two-part The Moorside, starting on DStv’s ITV Choice on May 3.

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BY BILLY SUTER

SHOWN recently in the UK to critical acclaim, the two-part The Moorside, a drama series shown recently in the UK to critical acclaim, is to be seen in South Africa, on DStv’s ITV Choice (channel 123), from 8pm on Wednesday, May 3.

The drama tells a true story from 2008, and is centred on Shannon Matthews, a nine year-old girl who disappeared from The Moorside Estate in the town of Dewsbury in the UK.

Her abduction was a story that gripped the local community and the nation, with the ongoing saga splashed across the front page of every tabloid at the time.

It made international headlines when Shannon was eventually found… and it transpired that her own mother had conspired with her boyfriend’s uncle to kidnap her, in an apparent plan to claim the reward money. The community and the country were understandably outraged.

Almost 10 years later, this intriguing drama has been brought to the small screen by writer  Neil McKay and director Paul Whittington.

It stars Sheridan Smith (The Huntsman, The Cilla Black Story), Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones), Sian Brooke (Sherlock) and Siobhan Finneran (O’Brien in Downton Abbey).

The series’ key focus is not the abduction, nor the subsequent arrests, but the tireless hunt for Shannon and the seemingly boundless altruism of Julie Bushby (Smith), the woman who fiercely led the community search for the little girl, says a DStv spokesman.

“Julie, a personification of maternal love, is so desperate to see the good in people and to remain optimistic, that she refuses to acknowledge that Karen, Shannon’s mother (Whelan), is behaving oddly, while Karen’s friend Natalie (Brooke) becomes increasingly suspicious of her. Also on the case is DC Christine Freeman, played by Finneran.”

In one very unsettling scene, a smiling Karen begins to dance to the detective’s ringtone – Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl – while DC Freeman looks on in bewilderment, clearly thinking “Is that really how a mother would act just days after her young child has gone missing?”

Similarly, there was an incident where the man behind the counter at Karen’s local fish-and-chip shop gave her family a free dinner, to which she replied: “Ooh, I’ll have to have one of my kids go missing more often”.

Both instances, unbelievably, actually happened.

UK critics have been almost unanimous in their praise for the show and the cast’s performances.

The Guardian said: “It’s getting boring, plus hard to avoid clichés, when gushing about Smith – her range, her extraordinary humanness, her ability not just to play someone but to inhabit them, to be heroic without being sentimental. But she is, to nick one of her own lines, ‘f**king brilliant or what’.

“Big shout-outs also must go to Sian Brooke who plays Natalie Brown and to Gemma Whelan, whose Karen is not the evil woman the real one was made out to be – more immature, naive, weak, easily manipulated … and yet she did manage to con a lot of people for a long time, so she can’t be stupid.”

The Telegraph said of the series: “Powerful, brilliant and full justice to the story of Shannon Matthews’s abduction,” while Radio Times described the drama as “a gritty, captivating tour de force”.


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