Wednesday, Channel 4
Next Of Kin
A new series by Jack Thorne (National Treasure) starring Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley and other terrific stuff) should be a cause for celebration, perhaps even bunting in the street, official stamps, children having the day off school so they can look back and say, ‘I remember when that new thriller by Jack Thorne starring Sarah Lancashire first started. What a glorious day that was.’ But Kiri is not quite there. Yet.
Like National Treasure, which explored historic sex abuse, this is also a hot-potato drama. Here we’re concerned with interracial adoptions and the nature of social work, which is performed almost invisibly, becoming visible only when it all goes wrong and media witchhunts ensue. (As in the Victoria Climbie case, for example; you’d think the social workers had killed her, not the aunt.)
Lancashire plays Miriam, a social worker who is irreverent, straight-talking, witty, warm, well liked by colleagues and clients and obviously good at her job. Her shtick is that she takes her farty dog with her everywhere because the farty dog has too many medical problems to be left at home alone.
Felicia Mukasa and Sarah Lancashire in Kiri. Lancashire plays Miriam, a social worker who is irreverent, straight-talking, witty and warm
You had to love the farty dog, and Miriam’s love for the farty dog, even though the dog playing the farty dog didn’t look as if it had any serious medical issues at all. Not the best actor, that dog. Anyway, her own day goes horribly wrong when she arranges for Kiri, a little black girl in her charge, to visit her birth grandparents unsupervised, prior to being adopted by a white family.
As Miriam has understood it, the grandparents are estranged from their son, Kiri’s father, who has a violent criminal past. But the father enters the mix, Kiri goes missing and is then – please look away if you haven’t seen the first episode yet – found murdered on the common. Is it Miriam’s fault? Did she put Kiri into an unsafe environment? Did she allow her access to her grandparents so as ‘to tick all the Leftie boxes’?
The depiction of black men as always violent and criminal has been taken up elsewhere, but Thorne was caught between a rock and a hard place here. If he’s writing about transracial adoption, and Kiri couldn’t stay with her birth family, there had to be a reason, even if that reason turns out to be unfounded in some way. He just couldn’t win. And there were moments that were brilliantly written, as when Miriam visited her nasty mother (played by Sue Johnston with a Baby Jane lipsticked mouth). But the seeds that, plot-wise, will inevitably play out later were just too noticeably planted.
For instance, Miriam’s drinking isn’t going to go away, is it? The adoptive family have a birth son older than Kiri, who seems to have resented her, and that’s not going to go away either, is it? And Kiri’s nosebleeds? Are they going to be insignificant? Lancashire is a powerhouse of a performer, even when speaking in the Bristol accent that makes her sound like Julie Burchill, and so is Lucian Msamati as the grandfather. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. But the construction was so distracting and distancing you never felt fully immersed in the way that you did with either National Treasure or Happy Valley. I just couldn’t quite believe it. So it’s not there. Yet.
Meanwhile, McMafia continues to exasperate with its hopeless female characters, who are either mothers or daughters or girlfriends or have been sex-trafficked. In other words, whereas the men are allowed to exist in their own right, the women are only allowed to exist in relation to the men, and are off wandering Prague and buying handbags while Daddy is otherwise occupied with smashing a policeman to death with an iron bar. (Does Natasha have no idea what her father is up to? Is she that dim?)
As for Alex’s girlfriend, Rebecca (Juliet Rylance), they’ve barely bothered to write her at all. She just exclaims ‘great’ and ‘perfect!’ all the time. And that chap who turned up, who said he was at Harvard with Alex? She couldn’t see he was lying? When it was so obvious? Is she that dim? On the other hand, James Norton does seem to have some Poldarkian clause in his contract that means he must take his top off at least once per episode, so there is that. Happily.
And now, because I had to get all that off my chest, I’ve run out of space for Next Of Kin, ITV’s thriller about a ‘normal’ British Muslim family who find themselves dealing with radicalisation and terrorism. It was strongly played, particularly by Archie Panjabi, but I ask you: the family gathers for a party to welcome home her character’s brother, a doctor who has been doing charity work in Pakistan and phones to say he’s on the way to the airport in Lahore. So why are they gathering now? The flight to London is 11 hours, minimum! And when the doorbell goes a couple of hours later, why would they think it’s him? Does he have a matter transporter? Just saying…