Over the last few years I’ve dreaded sitting down to the final episode of a series I’ve loved. More often than not they don’t deliver and have only served to sour my opinion of the piece as a whole or make me wish I hadn’t got myself so invested. I often spend a final episode feeling really nervous. So often there’s so much to wrap up and not enough time to do all the loose ends justice. The worst finales are the ones that leave things hanging to leave the viewer to make up their own minds about something. I know some writers think that’s a clever device, but If I’ve invested in a series and grown to care about the characters I need closure on the story.
Woeful conclusions have become the norm of late. Remember that dotty finale of BBC1’s The Replacement? Or Suranne Jones addressing the camera when Doctor Foster drew to a close? As I say a poor ending often leaves me feeling sour on the whole show. I haven’t really loved a British drama since the incredible Line of Duty last year. I’ve enjoyed other things but Line of Duty was the drama last year that I looked forward to every week. Four weeks ago though I found a new obsession.
Jack Thorne’s Channel 4 drama Kiri gripped me from the beginning. Initially focusing on Sarah Lancashire’s social worker Miriam as she arranged for the young black girl to spend time with her biological family. We learn as it goes on that Kiri’s father Nathan has a violent past and isn’t allowed access to his daughter and that Miriam’s arrangement allows Kiri to get to know her grandparents and have ties to her biological family and ‘people that look her’. Miriam is someone who is fiercely loyal to the kids she oversees. She has three things in her life: her ailing dog Jessie, her equally ailing elderly mother and her job. She’s passionate in what she believes in, respected by colleagues and although she can sometimes come across as blunt and balshy Thorne’s script and Lancashire’s fantastically believable performance make sure we know her heart is always in the right place.
When Miriam’s arranged visit results in Kiri’s death Thorne’s drama cleverly morphs into several different dramas. Miriam and Kiri’s family become the focus of a media circus and Kiri’s grandparents who barely know their young grandaughter are taken to the hospital to identify her body. When Channel 4 first announced the show I had assumed this would be vehicle for Lancashire, and whilst she was a major focus Thorne cleverly devoted each of his four episodes to the key players in Kiri’s story, each of which was as compelling as the last.
I loved it all so much because it wasn’t one thing. Much like Thorne’s last piece for Channel 4, National Treasure it was about how much the press get involved in things. It’s about Miriam and how she deals with the fallout of her decision to set up the meeting. It’s about Kiri’s grandfather and how he deals with the fact his son might’ve carried out this horrendous crime. It’s about how Kiri’s adoptive family cope with her loss and lastly it’s an intriguing whodunnit and a look at our built in prejudices and beliefs. Much like National Treasure Thorne’s script carefully plays with the audience forcing them to confront their own morals. It’s a drama that asks a lot of the viewer and poses a lot of questions but also gives you characters you care about, that feel true to life and that you want to spend time with. Whether you agree or not about the decision Miriam made that fateful day Thorne makes her sympathetic at every turn. One of my favourite moments of the final episode sees Miriam reunited with some of the children she placed in foster families that have gone on to make successes of themselves. They know the woman she really is. Another favourite moment of that final installment sees Miriam visit her mum after being letgo from her beloved job. Her dismissal means she can no longer afford her mum’s care home fees and that they’d need to move in together. Sue Johnston, who looks unrecognisable as Miriam’s frail mother delivers a wonderful line, “you only want me for the carer’s allowance?” To which Miriam replies, “yes.” It’s a tiny scene but I adored it.
The thing that made Kiri such a special series was the fact that everyone was important. Every actor given time to shine. Nobody was inconsequential. Everyone was so crucial to the story and each as interesting as the person before. As the story progresses we learn Kiri’s adoptive parents Jim and Alice (played by the supremely talented Stephen Mackintosh and Lia Williams) don’t have the perfect marriage we might’ve initially assumed. At one point Kiri is described as a ‘new glue’ as if her adoption would save their failing marriage. We also learn that the doting parents who have happily paraded themselves in front of TV cameras to denounce Miriam and their daughter’s killer have their own skeletons. Alice has been suspended from teaching after striking a pupil and is having an affair. She also, and crucially for the final episode lied to police about spotting Kiri’s dad’s car near their family home implicating him in her death. Then there’s their son Simon played by the brilliantly haunting Finn Bennett. Si is a fascinating character. Outwardly he could be described as an oddball. He lurks around the family home asking his parents difficult and probing questions they don’t want to answer. In a lot of ways he’s the most self aware and most astute of all the characters. He’s aware that his parents loved Kiri more than him and that his mum his having an affair and by the end of the penultimate episode all signs point to Simon being involved in his sister’s death.
So that brings me to my nerves about the final episode. So many stories to tie up, so many characters to devote time to and also a resolution of the ‘whodunit’ plot. Thorne had a lot to do and only 47mins to do it. I’m not sure whether to spoil the resolutions but suffice to say I adored this finale. From it’s quieter and sweeter moments with Miriam reunited with her dog Jessie to the louder and more thought provoking moments which included Miriam’s dismissal and Kiri’s birth father self harming when he’s informed he will be charged with his daughter’s brutal murder. It delivered on every level managing to be humorous, heartbreaking and thought provoking in equal measure. It’s an hour of TV that’ll stick with me for a long time and one I can see I myself rewatching. I’ve often bemoaned the fact that we produce series that are too short. On paper four episodes doesn’t seem enough to really get under the skin of the characters but this, like National Treasure before it proves that if the story and characters are compelling enough the old adage of less is more can still be true. Jack Thorne and the wonderfully talented cast should be applauded and they’re certain to be rewarded when awards time comes, but for now if you’ve somehow missed Kiri please seek it out on All4. It’s an incredibly important, relevant and emotional drama for anyone and everyone that you must see.
Kiri is available on DVD on Monday 19th February 2019