TV Review: Kiri

With a cast including Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, how could Kiri be anything but good

“Stick a flake in it before you try and sell it to the tabloids will you”

Airing on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year, Jack Thorne’s Kiri was billed as a continuation of his National Treasure brand  (I managed one episode of that first series…). But any fears I had of not liking it were assuaged by a cast led by Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, plus this far down the line, I’d heard enough good things about it to finally get round to watching. 

Set in Bristol, Kiri follows the abduction of a young black girl – Kiri – in the foster care system, as she is allowed a meeting with her birth grandparents in advance of her adoption by a white middle-class family. Her social worker Miriam has arranged this unorthodox meeting and sure enough, the proverbial hits the fan when she gets a phone call to say she has gone missing.

A search party quickly makes a tragic find and at first, it seems obvious what has happened as Kiri’s birth father has only recently been released from prison. Thorne’s narrative explores the voraciousness with which the press descend on such a case, delighted with the double whammy of a neglectful social worker and a black man with a record on whom to pin the blame. 

As the focus, respectively, of the first and second episodes, Lancashire and Msamati are superb. Decisions that from afar seem wrong-headed are revealed to be the result of any number of nuanced pressures, systemic failures and an institutional racism that can never be ignored. Both care so very deeply, even as they make mistakes, and both actors deliver such empathetic work.

And as he peels away the thin veneer over what British society’s attitudes to race really is, Thorne simultaneously pulls the rug with a twisting whodunnit plot. Kiri is perhaps a little less effective here as the Warner family, the ones who were due to adopt the girl, are frankly less interesting characters, for all their creepy enigma. Lia Williams, Steven Mackintosh and Finn Bennett do keep us getting right til the bitter end though, in this thoroughly gripping drama.

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