TV COLUMN: The Moorside, The Good Karma Hospital

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

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

It’s easy to praise the production of The Moorside (BBC1), the dramatization of the kidnapping of nine-year-old Shannon Mathews from the Moorside estate in 2008. The production strengths stand out of the TV set a mile.

Sheridan Smith’s performance as Julie Bushby, friend of Shannon’s mother and leader of the community hunt for the disappeared child, is so believably compelling, you can easily forget it’s a drama and not a documentary.

The filming and production values, which echo those of Shane Meadows’ This Is England series, adds a heightened sense of realism. The script is sharp, snappy and uncomfortably visceral, especially in the months of the children. As a piece of TV drama, what’s not to like?

What is more problematic is yet another example of what has been called ‘poverty porn’, whereby an assumed underclass is presented to the watching-from-a-distance middle classes.

The Moorside is built on the myth of working class community – the community, don’t forget, from which a family kidnapped their own daughter for personal gain and the same community which abused any sense of friendship and togetherness.

Every stereotype and trope of the non-working working class was there, from poor diet, universal smoking, swearing, school-excluded kids, wearing pyjamas outside and anti-establishment hostility.

And yet, the audience is lured into somehow endowing an existence few would choose for their own families as having some warm, life-affirming, community spirit that everyone else in the country has lost.

It’s a myth. Marxists would have a field day on Moorside. Moorside is nothing more than an updating of Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’, where the onlooker sees poverty, lack of education, social disenfranchisement and alienation, but can cover up all responsibility with a whimsical, “ahh, but they’re happy, they have a community”.

Every now and then there’s a reminder of what’s so awful about commercial television – the commercials. Adverts and incessant advert breaks. The Good Karma Hospital (ITV) had all the promise of a good Sunday evening drama, but was almost unwatchable due a combination of poor editing and ad breaks.

It was like watching TV drama in a flick-book. Couple. Cut. Break-up. Cut. Crying on the toilet. Cut. Advert, advert, advert. Airport. Cut. Indian hospital. Cut. Possible future love interest. Cut. For a drama, The Good Karma Hospital had all the depth of a stone skimming on a pond.

It got lucky with the scheduling, especially if Apple Tree Yard over on BBC1 wasn’t your thing, but the Karma Hospital will struggle against even half-decent competition in the 9pm slot.