“You haven’t lost your faith in people, have you?”
The problem with using superlatives is that it is so easy to get carried away. And having declared the second series of Unforgotten to be sure of being one of the best pieces of television we’ll see this year, I’m now having to add The Moorside to that same category. The first episode blew me away and the second, directed by Paul Whittington and written by Neil McKay, confirmed the show as a devastating tour de force.
Occupying the slightly hazy ground of docudrama, where real-life events are augmented with highly researched dramatised scenes, The Moorside nevertheless smacks of the ring of truth from start to finish. The second instalment picks up with Shannon Matthews having been found by the police and whilst the community who came together so dramatically to search for her celebrate, questions about Karen Matthews’ involvement in the disappearance of her daughter hang ominously in the air.
You can’t really understate how phenomenal the lead performances are here – Sheridan Smith’s deeply compassionate Julie leading the community effort and warily accepting her place as Karen’s new best friend since Siân Brooke’s sceptical Natalie won’t stop asking questions about all the inconsistencies in the case. And Gemma Whelan’s Karen is a blankly haunting presence, wisely steering clear of offering any answers to what might have driven this woman to such action, instead just hinting at a life that failed her and her 6 other children.
The climactic scene featuring Natalie and Julie exhorting Karen to come clean in a car, assisted by Siobhan Finneran’s detective, is – and I apologise again – simply sensational. Brooke and Smith pushing Whelan’s Karen to the brink and then shattering whatever bubble she’d constructed for herself to release a chillingly tortured confession. Whelan should win the awards for acting, Brooke and Smith should win awards for reacting, somehow these should all be shared with Nicola Walker!
The overall feel of the episode can’t help but be somewhat dispiriting, seeing the emotion that brought a community together in such closeness being fractured into sour anger, stoked by the careless negativity of the tabloid media and even David Cameron himself. And even with Julie’s innate brighter nature persisting, it’s a tough ask to remain as positive as she did in real life, visiting Karen all through her prison sentence. But as with the beautifully written and achingly sensitive scene of quiet revelation on a park bench shared between Brooke and Smith, you can so rarely ever really know the truth about a person.