Two-part drama ‘The Moorside’ concluded on BBC One last week, a dramatisation of the case of Shannon Matthews that shocked the nation. In 2008, nine-year-old Shannon Matthews was reported missing, and, like the case of Madeline Mccann, the press went mad. Photos of Shannon and her desperate mother Karen were splashed across every national newspaper, and the police spent millions in their hunt for the young girl.
Only a year older than Shannon at the time, I remember only a bit of the case, except for the discovery that after 24 days, Shannon was discovered hidden in the divan bed of her step-Uncle’s house. However, even more shocking, that her mother Karen had been involved in the kidnapping, conspiring with the Uncle, Michael Donovan, to stage a kidnap of Shannon and then split the reward money.
Episode One follows the events from when Shannon was reported missing to the moment the police find her, while the concluding part details the aftermath of this for Karen Matthews, her family, and for her friends who stood by her. Sheridan Smith shines as Julie Bushby, Karen Matthew’s closest friend, and the woman who fronted the community campaign to find Shannon, while Sian Brooke (recently making her debut as Eurus in Sherlock) makes a powerful impact alongside Smith as Natalie Brown, the other friend of Karen, and the woman who was the first to suspect Karen of wrongdoing.
“The story is mainly from Julie Bushby’s (Sheridan Smith) point of view, who is unable to see the signs of Karen’s guilt that we all know is there”
However, it is perhaps Gemma Whelan’s portrayal of Karen Matthews that is the most astounding, having completely transformed herself from a glamorous and pretty young woman to an almost identical version of the real Karen Matthews.
The programme, while making a point of the tough and at times desperate lifestyle that people on The Moorside Estate lead, also highlights the astounding sense of community and compassion that people have in places like these. From the minute news of Shannon’s disappearance is made common knowledge, the whole community comes together to search for her, and to support the Matthews family.
The story is mainly from Julie Bushby’s (Sheridan Smith) point of view, who is unable to see the signs of Karen’s guilt that we all know is there, hence the show is careful not to make her wrongdoing obvious, yet at the same time slowly making the truth clearer as suspicion starts to cloud around the case. When Karen, before going out to do a press conference clutching a teddy, is asked whether it is Shannon’s favourite, she replies “probably”. Even without knowing the real events, it is clear as a viewer that Karen is not the devastated mother she pretends to be.
Nonetheless, while the show could so easily paint Karen Matthews as the evil mother the press make her out to be, it instead chooses to make a balanced portrayal of her as a woman who has done wrong, yet is also a victim of her own unintelligence and class. When pushed for the truth by Natalie Brown (Sian Brooke) and DC Christine Freeman (Siobhan Finneran) she breaks down in tears, admitting that she had wanted to leave her partner Craig (Tom Hanson), but her plan to sneak off and stay at Donovan’s house had gone wrong, ending in Shannon being reported missing.
Whether this story is true or debatable, however, one ends up feeling slightly sorry for her, since she is clearly a woman crying out to be taken care of and loved, yet instead has been used and abused her whole life, and is now unable to see right from wrong.
Verdict: Both episodes are gripping from beginning to end, and feel pretty accurate since the real Julie, Natalie and DC Christine Freeman all related their experiences to the BBC during the making of the show. Despite the show of inhumanity from Karen, there is still a sense of true human goodness radiating from Smith’s portrayal of Julie, since one can see that she really cares about Karen and her family, and wants nothing more than to find Shannon.
Even when she has been betrayed by Karen, she still sticks up for her, acknowledging Matthew’s awful behaviour but making the point that she is weak and misled rather than ‘evil’, something that would be wise to remember when considering the real events. Whether the BBC were right to bring up something that happened years ago is debatable, yet one thing is for sure, this isn’t a case that can be forgotten easily.
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