herald

Saturday 21 September 2019

A truly powerful drama

I WAS about to say there was an awful lot to enjoy about Stolen, except "enjoy" is probably not the ideal word to use about a drama about the harrowing subject of child trafficking. So let's go with "admire" instead.

There was an awful lot to admire about Stolen, not least Damian Lewis as policeman DI Anthony Carter. Lewis was excellent, imbuing a character that was essentially a blank sheet with a compassion, controlled anger and inner life that wasn't always obvious in Stephen Butchard's uneven script.

Carter has a wife, seen mostly in long- to medium-shot, who's even less of a rounded character, and a sweet little daughter, who seemed to be there simply to heighten the poignancy of the other child characters.

At one point director Justin Chadwick, shooting in ultra-widescreen, the effect of which was lost on a standard-sized TV, used the split-screen technique to clumsily contrast the happy life of Carter's daughter with the casual brutality suffered by the kids being trafficked.

Though Lewis was the big-name star, Stolen really belonged to Gloria Oyewumi as Rosemary, a West African child smuggled into Manchester to be sold into domestic service with a comfortable couple from her own country. In a particularly potent scene, the husband haggles with the trafficker over the "price" of Rosemary: £5,000.

Apparently plucked from the crowd just three days before filming began, Oyewumi was outstanding as a child who is in many ways wise beyond her years, yet at heart still a frightened little girl, unsure of who, including Carter, to trust.

We meet Rosemary at the airport, where she tears up her passport and flushes it down the lavatory, before heading for a rendezvous with the trafficker who's organised her new "family".

She's intercepted by Carter and his team and billeted in a suburban house with a kind but ineffectual carer. Rosemary runs away, makes contact with the trafficker on a pre-arranged phone number and winds up with the family.

She's treated as a slave by the lady of the house, who beats her when her work doesn't come up to scratch and locks her out on the balcony in the freezing cold after she catches her trying on one of her children's school jackets.

Rosemary's story ends happily and I would have been happy if Stolen had ended with it. But Butchard unwisely tried to squeeze in the stories of two other children: Kim Pak, a Vietnamese teenager who's put to work at a cannabis farm, and a Ukrainian boy called Georgie, who's used as unpaid slave-labour in a sandwich factory.

Kim Pak barely featured, while Georgie's fate, being randomly stabbed by a passing youth and bleeding to death on the street in broad daylight while passers-by ignore him, was melodramatic, overacted and wildly at odds with the rest of the film.

Flaws apart, Stolen was powerful drama and the Unicef statistics quoted at the end -- 1.2 million children a year are trafficked and the trade is worth $12 billion -- were genuinely chilling.

The first thing I heard after I turned the volume down at the end of Traffic Blues was the sound of a joyrider roaring down a nearby road. So he wasn't watching, then.

Or maybe he had. Maybe he enjoyed the centrepiece of last night's opening episode: the high-speed pursuit of a driver around the streets of Dublin, featuring hair-raising footage shot from inside the garda car.

Maybe he even got off on it. I can't imagine anyone getting off on anything else. That big car-chase apart, Traffic Blues is a largely drab depiction of the Garda Traffic Corps going about their business of checking for tax and insurance, and pulling in speeding drivers they suspect might be under the influence. Hardly Fox's Cops, is it?

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