Consent, Channel 4

by | Jan 21, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

An utterly absorbing yet strangely anaesthetizing, insightful but dispiriting chronicle of how the British justice system may deal with women who make a complaint of rape.

What was good about it?

• Anna Madeley as Rebecca and Daniel Mays as Steve, the man she accuses of raping her were both superb. Madeley perfectly conveyed the horror of her ordeal. In doing she showed why it took her a number of days before she plucked up the courage to report the crime; a fact later used by the jury to cast doubt on her evidence.

• At first she simply felt confused and humiliated, even questioning if it might be her own fault. It was only when her spineless boss, who was concerned more about his imminent restructuring that both the protagonists played a crucial role in, refused to take action that she was given the necessary propulsion to overcome all her doubts and fears. And even then she had to summon up the nerve to matter-of-factly report the rape in a busy police station that was filled up with aggressive bawling men.

• Mays, meanwhile, may have been too good in his role as the boorish Steve. He was utterly convincing in his protestations of innocence, perhaps too much so with the implausible polish of an accomplished actor, but this is only a minor criticism.

• When he was questioned in the witness stand his eloquence offered far more cogent evidence than the fidgety Rebecca, and his clear, sincere and full descriptions of the night in question persuaded the jury, perhaps even more than the black and white facts of the case, of his innocence. For instance, he suggested that she might have made her complaint because of the guilt she felt for having sex with a work colleague, a regret, he compellingly lied, that he shared with her. And when it was put to him that he put his hand over her mouth he claimed with ostensible ingenuousness: “It is not within my nature to do that to any girl.”

• It showed the fragility of the clause which protects the identity of the woman making the complaint. Almost everyone Rebecca knew – her flatmate and her colleagues – were all in court either to offer support or as witnesses so her identity wasn’t really protected.

• In the court, every role was ‘played’ by someone from the profession not actors. This provided a perspicacious look at how the judicial system works in such matters. As this case, like so many rape cases, relies simply on one version of events against another mostly over the giving of consent, both barristers pick little holes in the testimony of the defendant and plaintiff and then extrapolate any weakness to try to convince the jury that one little misdemeanour with the truth illustrates that they are a habitual liar. Of course, this leads to both rapists getting away with their crimes and unjust convictions, but here its purpose was merely to show how flawed the whole process is. Something in achieved in spades.

• While in summing up, Steve’s barrister concluded: “To acquit Steven Roberts is not to say she [Rebecca] is a liar. She may be telling the truth, he may be telling the truth. But the law is: ‘we must be sure that he is guilty’. Not ‘may have done it’, not ‘probably did it’, not ‘could have done it’, but ‘sure’.” And in this sentiment, she clarified and enlightened us as to why the conviction rate in rape cases is just 6%.

The most shocking scenes arrived, though, when the jury was sent out for deliberation. After one woman made an earnest defence of Rebecca’s testimony, she was set upon by a number of the others like a pack of wolves tearing the flesh from a maimed caribou. One female juror seemed to regard Rebecca as a hussy who had simply had sex and regretted it before crying rape as a tool to get rid of a rival at work. A male juror then concocted some rubbish about how her flailing knees would have left Steve with severe bruising on his chest if she had resisted his advances because he was a muscular rower.

• But the most astonishingly insensitive remark came from the jury foreman. “Time is not relevant,” he pontificated. “This is a young man’s future.” “And a woman’s future,” Rebecca’s only supporter reasonably added. “No,” the foreman said screwing up his podgy face as if considering and dismissing her view in an instant. “That’s happened, what’s happened to the woman has happened. Convicted or not convicted, it won’t affect her.”

What was bad about it?

• Despite the sterling attempts by all involved to create an ambience to realistically mimic a real rape trial, it was impossible to conceive that Channel 4 would broadcast a drama in which the woman making the complaint was lying or mistaken.

• The script was tilted in favour of elucidating the dehumanising, humiliating and often arbitrary nature of how rape cases are conducted in British courts, and for this the writers should be applauded, but at the same time this meant the programme could not been seen to discourage women from reporting rape disheartened as they are by the current low conviction rate. And accordingly, after Steve had been found not guilty the screen cut to the night in her hotel room where he was seen raping her despite her best efforts to fend him off.

• And when the jury were in deliberation, one woman staunchly defended Rebecca in the face of hostile opposition from her fellow jurors. Was she basing her beliefs on the evidence presented in court, or had she too realised that a TV company would not sanction a definitive drama based on a case in which a woman lies about a rape?

• Another fact not made clear was that if the trial was conducted under the conditions of a real trial, what about if one of the actors fluffed their lines? Could the resulting fuss as the scene had to be reset and lines repeated have caused the jury to lose their perspective of the whole thing as ‘real’?

• In the scene between Steve and his solicitor, the solicitor seems a little overawed by Daniel Mays’ improvised dialogue leading to the juxtaposition of the ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ seeming a little false. However, this was the only occasion when it was apparent.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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