TV COLUMN: Three Girls, British Academy TV Awards

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television...

The disgrace of the institutional failings in the Rochdale child sexual exploitation case provided the material for one of the most powerful, harrowing and moving dramas in the history of British television this week.

The subject matter of Three Girls (BBC1), centred on the grooming, rape and prolonged sexual exploitation of three young teenage girls, is not the stuff of easy viewing.

The lone fight of sexual health worker, Sara Rowbotham, against the prejudice, incompetence, complacency and ignorance of the police and social services just added to an emotional mix that made the blood boil.

Whilst it easy to get sucked into the issues of the real life events, the production itself deserves huge praise. The writing was meticulously researched, with detailed input from those involved.

The performances were blisteringly charged and poignant right across the whole cast, from Molly Windsor, Ria Zmitrowicz and Liv Hill as the girls, to Maxine Peake as Rowbotham and Lesley Sharp as investigating policewoman, DC Margaret Oliver.

The BBC’s decision to show the three episodes on consecutive nights was another brave decision and intensified the power of the drama.

On Twitter, #ThreeGirls was the number one trend for the first two nights, only being relegated to second by the ITV leaders’ debate. Social media was febrile with anger, incredulity and tears. The calls for Three Girls to be shown universally in schools did not seem hyperbolic.

Three Girls may well be looked back on as an epoch-defining moment in British television. It’s transmission in the middle of a general election campaign has muted its media impact – the ignoring of the issue, even in dramatic form, seems rather too ironically in keeping with the ignorance of the real events.

That’s not to say it was perfect. Some of the issues are still hidden behind a veil of multicultural sensitivities. Drama can only do so much.

Whilst Three Girls is a clear award winner of next year, the British Academy Television Awards (BBC1) was busy dishing out this year’s prizes in an outrageous display of terrestrial TV nepotism.

Television is in a golden age and this has been driven by the money of subscription and streaming services. Free-to-air television has clearly upped its game in response, but the ignoring by BAFTA of almost all of the pay-to-view content came close to undermining and devaluing the UK’s premier television award.

The Crown (Netflix) led the nominations, but was ignored and left empty-handed. Other highly critically acclaimed productions, such as Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic), House of Cards (Netflix), and Westworld (Sky Atlantic) didn’t get a look in.

Some of the winners were deserving – and we might say spotted by this column when they aired – the baby iguanas fleeing the deadly racer snakes in Planet Earth 2 and the breakthrough of Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag being just two.