We bang on about the Golden Age of Television. It’s a phrase that’s overused, but it is true. The drama output over the last five six years has been some of the best I’ve ever seen in all my years plonked in front of a television screen. In those five six years I’ve indulged in the best drama from around the world. Scandi Noir and gritty US drama have opened my eyes and made me feel things I didn’t think possible from drama, but I stand by a comment I make time and time again: “no one makes drama like the BBC”.
The best example of that is new drama Three Girls which the beeb are bravely scheduling over consecutive nights this week. This three-parter is gritty, real and often difficult to watch. It’s the story of the Rochdale sex abuse scandal which shocked and appalled when it broke in 2012. We’re no stranger to dramas ripped from the headlines, ITV’s Little Boy Blue which concluded just this week tackled another difficult to watch subject in the murder of Rhys Jones.
Here, we watch as young Holly (the captivating Molly Windsor) is drawn into a world of underage sex and violence at the hands of older Asian men at a local takeaway. Holly’s family are forced to move to Rochdale after her father (Paul Kaye) looses his business. Struggling to fit in she meets two girls who are already under the spell of these men who they refer to as ‘daddy’ or their “boyfriends.” It’s deeply disturbing and it’s made even more uncomfortable when you remind yourself this isn’t an awful fictionalised story dreamt up by a dramatist to make you think, but a depiction of the horrendous reality of young girls just a few years ago.
Holly quickly falls under the spell of the men and her relationship with her parents and young siblings becomes more and more distant. The first gut truly gut wrenching scene occurs in a backroom of the curry house when ‘daddy’, an elder member of the group forces himself on the bemused and frightened fifteen year old. It’s an excruciating scene that I’m not capable of describing. It turns the stomach, it’s a scene unlike anything else I’ve seen in modern drama. Though her friends almost appear blasé about Holly’s first sexual encounter with ‘daddy’ her moral compass slowly kicks in and she goes to the police for help.
If that awful scene was hard to bare, the scenes where Holly recounts the story of her rape with her dad present as her appropriate adult filled me with anger. Initially the officers seem as taken aback by Holly’s account as you’d expect but when she mentions she’s had sex before their attitude toward her begins to change. They dismiss her almost as if she must have brought this brutal attack on herself.
In a strange way it was the attitude of police and subsequently the social workers that angered me the most. Of course the men were heinous monsters, but the police and social work teams are there to be the girls’ saviours and they were dismissive, unhelpful and downright useless in the times the girls were quite clearly in serious danger. You always imagine that we have nets to catch the vulnerable when these awful things happen but Nicole Taylor’s script didn’t paint these people as angels, she showed the reality of people too focused on their work to see what was actually in front of them.
Luckily for the girls they did have a champion and a voice in sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham (the glorious Maxine Peake) and she’s only too aware of the awful lives these girls are living. Luckily for us she was also the voice of the audience as she fought with those at the top who appeared too close minded to the fact that these young girls were actually being abused. “There is no such thing as a teenage prostitute” She screams at a social worker in a closing scene.
Make no mistake this was a difficult watch. As much as I praise it, I didn’t enjoy it so much as appreciate the fact we live in an age that this sort of thing can be shown on television in the first place. It’s an incredibly important watch for everyone. It shows how easily young girls can be led down these difficult paths and how difficult it is for them to be heard when they decide to speak up. I can’t praise everyone involved enough. Taylor’s script was harsh and unapologetic and all the better for it. At no point the brutality we were subjected to feel gratuitous or unnecessary. Taylor bravely and shone a light onto the realities of one of the worst abusive cases in British history. To say Maxine Peake was a marvel almost needs to go unsaid but she was. However, special mention needs to go the young cast particularly Molly Windsor who gave an incredible performance throughout. I was on Holly’s side from the word go and watching her decent into this debauched world was utterly heartbreaking.
The best television dramas are the ones that stick with you and I’ll be thinking about Three Girls for a long time to come. Whilst I appreciate the subject matter is a hard one to tackle, I urge everyone to watch this and just celebrate the great and good that the BBC do. This alone is worth the licence fee.
Three Girls continues Tomorrow and Thursday Night at 9.00pm on BBC One.