Dramas about horrific true events have a special sort of sniff test to pass. The viewer might ask if a given production offers any insight into what happened, or how it may be prevented. They will also weigh up the interests of the real-life people directly, and consider what period of time constitutes a respectful gap between grim events and having actors recreate them.
Shannon Matthews is now 18. The fake kidnap staged by her mother Karen took place less than a decade ago, and while new BBC drama Moorside does not focus on Shannon’s experience, it will certainly make for an unsettling watch if she chooses to tune in.
I’m a little troubled by the comments of Moorside’s writer, Neil McKay, about how Karen Matthews is portrayed. “Whatever Shannon thinks about her mother,” he told The Guardian, “and we can’t speculate about that, it’s better that there’s a portrait of Karen that’s more balanced and nuanced.” I’m not sure McKay is qualified to comment on what might be best for Shannon, whose image doesn’t appear in the drama but who very closely resembles the girl in its recreations of the smiling, side-ponytailed photo that became familiar to everyone in the UK.
Sheridan Smith plays Julie, a friend of Karen’s who spearheads the community’s efforts to find Shannon. Hers is the star role, but it’s Sian Brooke’s quieter performance as Natalie that is the stand-out. Julie is the one organising searches and printing posters (“We’ll find her, love,” she assures Karen. “Don’t you bloody worry”), but Natalie is able to take a step back and see that something about Karen’s behaviour isn’t quite right.
The real Karen Matthews was certainly a decent actress when it came to tearful press conferences, and professional performer Gemma Whelan does a good job of bringing her to life. It’ll be interested to see how she fares when forced to return without Shannon.
Until now I hadn’t given much thought to the Moorside friends and neighbours who were waiting expectantly for the nine-year-old’s return, and I’ll be very interested to see how that – as well as fury at her mother – is portrayed next week.
Hopefully someone can get that folding door fixed before then, so that when people pull each other into the kitchen for a “private” chat at regular speaking volume, they can actually benefit from some privacy.