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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Kiri Review: Why Jack Thorne's new drama exceeded my expectations


As someone who writes about TV regularly I always get rather excited when two or more people from the industry that I admire collaborate on a project. However, often my high expectations aren't met so I was trepidatious when I heard that Jack Thorne; the writer and creator of the BAFTA-winning National Treasure, was teaming up with the wonderful Sarah Lancashire for the former's new Channel 4 drama Kiri. My already sizeable expectations were heightened when I learned that Euros Lyn; who directed Lancashire in the first series of Happy Valley, was the director on all four episodes. Thankfully, in the case of Kiri, my expectations weren't only meant but exceeded thanks to an involving story from Thorne and another wonderful central turn from Lancashire.

Lancashire stars as Bristolian social worker Miriam; a force-of-nature whose typical working day is chronicled in the opening episode's early scenes. Thorne injects Miriam with a quirky personality and a wicked sense of humour which is evidenced when she discusses her dog Jessie's various ailments with a passer-by. But at the same time, there's clearly some heartache in Miriam's life as we see her swigging from a hip flask in her kitchen which also includes a door frame in which a child's growth spurts have been marked.


One of Miriam's cases involves the titular Kiri (Felicia Mukasa); a young black girl who is about to be her adopted by her white foster parents Alice and Jim Warner (Lia Williams and Stephen Mackintosh). Reading between the lines, it's clear that Miriam has been helping Alice and Jim with the adoption process whilst at the same time convincing them to allow Kiri to maintain a relationship with her birth grandparents. The first unsupervised meeting between Kiri and grandparents Tobi and Rochelle (Lucian Msamati and Andi Osho) is the basis for the drama's story. Whilst Miriam is sure that everything will run smoothly, Kiri later goes missing whilst in the care of Tobi and Rochelle.

Initially, Miriam believes that this is just a case of a young girl running away when she gets scared, she comes to the realisation that Kiri has been abducted by her birth father Nathanial (Paapa Essiedu). The police interview scene is one of the most memorable parts of the first episode of Kiri with Euros Lyn's direction closing in on Miriam's worried expression as she realises the seriousness of Kiri's disappearance. Lyn's direction continues to be outstanding in the scene which depicts the search for Kiri across the grounds of the common where she was last spotted. Whilst Miriam watches from afar on a bench with the Warner's teenage son Si (Finn Bennett), a cry from the woods sees both rushing to the scene of the commotion. Here the camera closes in on the expressions of the various characters as they see Kiri's dead body with Miriam shown to be in particular distress.


I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Kiri last month where Jack Thorne explained that the connection between his latest drama and National Treasure is that both look at rather sensitive stories being put under an intense media spotlight. That media spotlight is shone brightly throughout the episode's final act in which the social services and specifically Miriam are vilified in the press. The press' accuse Miriam and her colleagues of prioritising Kiri's cultural needs over her safety adding that it was because the youngster was black that the unsupervised visit was approved. Meanwhile, Miriam's superiors, including her line manager Julie (Claire Rushbrook), offer her up as a scapegoat and suspend her over allegations made by the Warners.

The criticisms of the press are also evident in the scene where DI Mercer (Wunmi Mosaku) asks Tobi to identify his granddaughter's body at the morgue. This is another sensitively directed scene which allows the brilliant Msamati to shine as we see him totally transform after seeing Kiri's body close-up. As he goes to the entrance of the hospital he approaches a rack of newspapers many of which contain sordid headlines about Kiri's death and Nathanial's past. Msamati is great as he portrays Tobi's anger by flipping over the rack of newspapers before breaking down in the hospital's lobby. The scene in the hospital also demonstrates how great Jack Thorne is as a writer as Tobi reference the cuts to Kiri's neck which calls back to an earlier part of the episode where Alice gives her foster daughter a scarf as she's worried about her long neck.


Suffice to say Sarah Lancashire is excellent throughout and she's equally at home portraying Miriam's infectiously joyous spirit in the beginning of the episode as she is at depicting her downward spiral following the character's suspension. Miriam ends the episode vomiting in the kitchen of one of the girls she cares for and is almost a completely different character from the one we saw in the opening scene. I personally feel that Lancashire is on course for another BAFTA as she makes Miriam feel wholly realistic and has brilliant chemistry with all of her fellow cast members. That's especially true of her on-screen partnership with Sue Johnston who plays Miriam's caustic mother Celia with their one scene together being one of my favourite in the episode. Both actresses benefit from Thorne's naturalistic dialogue and although they only show a few minutes together on screen they perfectly convey Miriam and Celia's tricky relationship.

On the evidence of this episode alone, Kiri is destined to be not only one of my favourite TV dramas of the year but maybe of the decade thanks in part to the many talented people involved in the series. Jack Thorne displays a balance of light and shade that was missing from a lot of National Treasure and creates a realistic story that you could easily see splashed across the front page of any newspaper
Euros Lyn extracts plenty of emotion from the majority of the scenes thanks to his assured direction whilst Clark's unique score perfectly enhances the mood and reminds me of the soundtrack that Cristobel Tapia De Veer provided on Thorne's National Treasure. Meanwhile the ensemble cast work hard to make the drama memorable with Lancashire and Msamati deserving particular praise for their performances in the opener. I'm just hoping the rest of the series is as brilliant as this first episode was and that Thorne, Lancashire and company continue to exceed my expectations.

Kiri Continues Wednesday at 9.00pm on Channel 4 

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