TV review: The Moorside, BBC One
A pointed two-part true-crime drama based on the disappearance of Shannon Matthews, starring Sheridan Smith
With much of the nation still reeling from the unsolved disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007, another child kidnapping dominated the British news just one year later. But in terms of media coverage, police efficiency and public perception, this case of a missing nine-year-old girl couldn't have been more divergent.
When Shannon Matthews went missing from her Dewsbury estate in February 2008, the press focus on her search seemed to dip rather quickly. The reasons cited by media commentators for this apparent lack of interest were fixed on the class divide: the McCanns were a nice middle-class family on an upmarket European holiday when their child went missing; Shannon's mother Karen was a single mum with many kids from five different fathers and living in total disarray. How could a mainstream press which views many UK citizens as being on Jeremy Kyle's waiting list take an even-handed approach to Matthews?
Almost tragically, even the tabloids' worst prejudices were confounded when, less than a month after being reported missing, Shannon was found alive a mile away from her home in a house belonging to Michael Donovan, the uncle of Karen's partner, Craig Meehan (a man later found to be in possession of child pornography).
The purpose of The Moorside appears to be in reclaiming that community's sense of pride largely due to the campaign it undertook to find Shannon, especially after the media's eyes had quickly turned away. Karen is played with an unhinged fragility by Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) while the always-impressive Siobhan Finneran portraying DC Christine Freeman who quickly detects something is off in the chaotic set-up within the Matthews household (despite the determined local hunt for Shannon, her discovery was ultimately a case of good old-fashioned police work).
But the drama's focus is on Sheridan Smith's character, Julie Bushby, the concerned mum and friend of Karen who helms a spirited campaign to find Shannon. As ever, Smith inhabits her role with determination and passion, her research ultimately leading to a friendship with the real Julie. As episode one ends, Shannon has just been discovered but the community's real struggle is about to begin. The drama's success is in creating a slow-burning despair which floods the viewer even if you have a full handle on the facts and timeline. Part two may well have to be watched through fingers as the horrible truth unfolds.
The Moorside is on BBC One, Tue 7 & 14 February, 9pm