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I am slave - great story, badly told

When writer David Mamet was quizzed about why his script for rip-roaring gangster thriller The Untouchables, about the bringing down of crime kingpin Al Capone, contained barely a grain of truth, he replied: "Just because a story is true doesn't make it interesting."

I Am Slave is a true story -- or at least "inspired by" the true story of Mende Nazar -- and it's certainly an interesting one. Yet in the hands of scriptwriter Jeremy Brock, it also turned out clumsy, heavy-handed and contrived.

Wunmi Mosaku was outstanding as Malia, who is abducted from her village in Sudan at the age of 12 and, by 18, winds up being kept as an indentured (ie, unpaid) servant in London.

Malia's prison is the plush, gated home of a Sudanese diplomat and his icy wife, who tells her: "Don't talk to him [the husband] unless he talks to you. And under no circumstances do you leave the house, day or night, without my permission."

Malia has to clean the house, wash the car and look after the couple's two young boys, who, in the clichéd manner of all master-slave stories, adore her, even as their mother treats her like something you'd scrape off your shoe.

Her only friend is the chauffeur, a gruff but kindly immigrant who would like to help her, but can't risk losing his job. After an early escape bid, her owner confiscates her passport -- "for safekeeping".

Later, nobody believes her (or rather nobody wants to believe her) when her mistress's creepy brother tries to force himself on her in the kitchen during a party. So far, so grim and gripping.

But I Am Slave was hobbled by flashbacks to Malia's unconvincingly idyllic childhood in Sudan, where her father appears to be the village sage and storyteller, as well as the champion wrestler.

These scenes, though beautifully filmed and in striking contrast to the claustrophobic London ones, reminded you of Alex Haley's Roots, a series that, viewed today, seems impossibly sentimental and idealised.

Awkwardly, there were flashbacks between flashbacks, in which we saw the younger Malia being horribly abused by her first owner, a cousin of her current one, in Khartoum.

This monstrous cow beats her with a hosepipe for playing with her daughter and locks her in a darkened garage after she tries to flee.

Back in London, Malia eventually escapes by memorising the burglar alarm code and is helped by a young, black passer-by she befriended during her brief trips to the front gate. In another plot convenience, he just happens to be from Sudan as well.

We were informed at the end that there could be as many as 5,000 slaves being kept in London. Their story deserves a better airing than this well-meaning but muddled and fractured film.

There were joyful celebrations and tearful recriminations in Coronation Street, which was in top form last night after something of a lull this past few weeks.

Roy Cropper (the wonderful David Neilson) received a special gift on the day of his marriage to Hayley (the equally wonderful Julie Hesmondhalgh): the chance to drive his favourite steam train.

Roy was in trainspotter heaven -- until the carriages uncoupled, leaving Hayley and half the wedding party miles down the track and facing a desperate dash to make it to the registry office on time.

Coronation Street is often at its best when it's at its lightest. This was a classic piece of Corrie comedy and a nice counterbalance to the episode's other main plot: Sophie Webster's lesbianism being revealed to her parents, shrieking Sally and clueless Kevin.

Over in EastEnders, meanwhile, someone was shouting at someone else. Probably.

STACEY'S STARS

I am slave **

Coronation Street ****