“Anyone tells you you’re not a good mother, you can tell them to shove it up their arse”
Coming from the same creative team as the extraordinary Appropriate Adult, it is no surprise that the first episode of new BBC two-parter The Moorside was a superlative hour of TV, leaving me eagerly awaiting the second instalment next week (just like the good old days, none of your stripping a show across consecutive days here). And as they did by looking at the deeds of Fred and Rosemary West through the experience of the social worker drafted in to assist him, the 2008 case of missing Dewsbury schoolgirl Shannon Matthews is retold here largely through the eyes of Julie Bushby, a friend of Shannon’s mother, who was instrumental in leading the community effort to find the young girl.
Where Appropriate Adult excelled was in its first-rate casting, securing the services of Emily Watson, Dominic West and a truly fearsome Monica Dolan to lend the work real gravitas. And if The Moorside doesn’t necessarily have an Oscar nominee in its company, it has a no less sensational trio at its core (all with sterling theatrical credits too). Sheridan Smith is the highest profile as Julie Bushby but Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones’ Yara Greyjoy) more than matches her with a frankly terrifying performance of blankness curdling into disturbing strangeness as Shannon’s mother Karen. And following on from her recent high profile turn in Sherlock, Siân Brooke also excels as her increasingly sceptical friend Natalie.
It is no spoiler (surely?!) that the kidnapping of the 9 year old was actually staged by the mother and her partner, and that knowledge is excruciating as the three week period of Shannon’s disappearance is docu-dramatised here from research, interviews and published accounts. From the urgent panic of the first few hours, to the remarkable community effort galvanised by Bushby, to the quietly meticulous police work probing away at the inconsistencies (Siobhan Finneran in great form as the lead DC), this was a thoroughly gripping hour of television – sensitive to its subject (though it should be noted that it isn’t endorsed by the Matthews family) and just superbly performed.