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The Long Shadow divides opinions
ITV's drama about the impact of Peter Sutcliffe's crimes has been lauded – and lambasted…
The Guardian is in a love-hate relationship with ITV’s new true-crime drama The Long Shadow.
I flagged it up as worth watching in a previous post, so I lean toward the review.
The criticism in the opinion piece, written by the paper’s north of England correspondent, is that it lacks credibility and is patronising because it was written by a ‘posh, southern voice’.
Not the right sort of chap
The Long Shadow is a seven-part drama that seeks to tell the stories of the victims and survivors of murderer Peter Sutcliffe. It stars Katherine Kelly, Daniel Mays, David Morrissey, Toby Jones, Jasmine Lee-Jones, Lee Ingleby and Jill Halfpenny.
The writer is George Kay. The north of England correspondent admits Kay is an excellent writer, but adds ‘we should not ignore the fact he is also a privately educated man from the south’.
It goes on to say that, of course, ‘everyone should be able to turn their hand to telling any story they wish’. However, Peter Morgan and Julian Fellowes are cited as typical of the poshos who are hogging the scriptwriting scene today.
I’m no fan of Downton Abbey and I didn’t go to public school (Highbury Grove Comprehensive was the only place I could get into), but all of this seems a bit beside the point.
Brilliant TV dramas
There is no doubt that working-class actors, writers and directors are not getting the opportunities they had 20 or more years ago. The same point could be made about The Guardian itself, a bastion of public school chums if ever there was one (including, apparently, my favourite writer there, George Monbiot).
My point is, if the north of England correspondent had not been aware that The Long Shadow’s writer was a southern public school boy, how would the series have been judged?
Let’s imagine that ITV had lied and claimed the writer was northern working class. Would the verdict have been different?
In other words, would it have been viewed on its merits rather than dismissed because of the writer’s background?
I saw George Kay speak at the press launch for the series. I thought he, director Lewis Arnold and the cast who also answered questions were sincere in their desire to portray the real-life trauma behind events that were obscured by the media coverage of the time.
I agree with the north of England correspondent’s argument that there are fine northern writers out there – Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley), James Graham (Sherwood), Tony Schumacher (The Responder). Their’s were among the most brilliant dramas on UK television in recent years.
A social history
Maybe one of them, or some other working-class writer, would have done a better job in telling the story of families damaged by Sutcliffe’s depravity.
But for now, we have The Long Shadow. It has powerful performances, is quite affecting in places, and it tells an important story.
Michael Bilton, former northern correspondent of The Sunday Times, wrote Wicked Beyond Belief, the book on which some of The Long Shadow is based. He told Radio Times, ‘It was written as a social history of the north of England, rather than a “true crime” book.’
Peter Sutcliffe did not interest him. He was drawn to the stories of the people affected, even the police, who, for all their blunders and prejudices, struggled with the frustration of failure for five years.
‘It wasn’t because it was a dark story, but because there is something we don’t understand that I wanted to know about,’ Bilton was quoted as saying.
In a nutshell, that is the best justification for television dramatising real cases. The Long Shadow makes a worthwhile attempt to examine what were shocking and bewildering events, and to tell the human stories.
Currently reading Bloody Valentine by John L Williams about ‘the Cardiff three’, innocent men jailed for the murder of Lynette White in 1988. The jacket says it’s ‘The Story of Britain’s Worst Miscarriage of Justice’ – the competition for that title is pretty stiff, Britain’s police and courts having a fairly atrocious record at times on that front (Birmingham Six, Timothy Evans, Derek Bentley). But it is a fascinating social/political snapshot of a time and place.
Speaking of miscarriages of justice, ITV is dramatising the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. While certainly guilty of murdering her lover David Blakely, the level of control and abuse she suffered were not issues taken seriously by the judiciary at that time. Lucy Boynton will play Ruth, and the series – called Ruth – is based on Carol Ann Lee’s biography, A Fine Day for a Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story.
And for light relief, it has to be Only Murders in the Building. As it nears its finale, I can’t believe they’ll top this cast next time (Paul Rudd! Meryl Streep!), and the plot has thickened nicely. My money’s on dodgy Donna as the killer… unless it’s someone else.