TV review: Five Daughters

Five Daughters, BBC1, Sunday

CRIME dramas are about the detectives, not the victims. Well, the victims are dead, for one thing, and it's more exciting, more comfortable to watch someone take control of the chaos, hunt down the killer, restore the status quo. Pictures of the victims are pinned to the detectives' incident board, or perhaps there will be a moment when the tough-but-sensitive police officer tells the weeping family they'll get the person who did this. But the personalities of the victims, their hopes and history, get erased or reduced to a quick few minutes of screen time before their inevitable murder.

Which makes Five Daughters really quite unusual. It may have begun with a scene showing the cops finding the bodies of two more women who have fallen to a serial killer, complete with Ian Hart's kindly senior policeman looking gravely concerned, but he and the investigation (and the killer) are really not the focus here. Instead, we were immediately taken back a few weeks to follow the women themselves, not just as walking victims, but as people who have no idea what's about to befall them.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It's not just an interesting twist, of course: these were real women, murdered in Ipswich in 2006 by Steve Wright. And the drama has been written this way in association with the families of four of the five, who understandably wanted to reclaim them as something more than names on a charge sheet.

But it's also about redressing the wrong done to these victims, whose deaths meant that their lives were boiled down to the aspect they had in common, and which put them at risk: they worked as prostitutes and were, or had been, drug users. Weirdly, the police attempts to give them a little respect, by emphasising that they were women who had ended up as prostitutes, rather than having been born that way, were greeted with moans from people who thought this was "political correctness gone mad", rather than human decency.

And so Five Daughters comes with that baggage too, a sort of public apology to these murdered women and their families.

All that is a heavy weight for any drama to bear and at times it was too much: even before the deaths, this was a grim tale of young lives in distress. An excellent cast helped, particularly Jaime Winstone as Anneli, who began the episode emerging from jail, off the drugs which had led her there and apparently starting the first day of the rest of her life.

Her mother and brother welcomed her home kindly, but she was defensive, easily wounded. She was beginning to have ambitions, but resists forgetting her recent past entirely. In a touching scene, Anneli visited her friend Gemma, still on the streets, earning money to keep her and her useless boyfriend in heroin. They joked about setting up as mobile hairdressers, but for Anneli it's a real possibility; for Gemma, an impossible fantasy.

Yet neither got the chance and, by the end of the episode, both had disappeared. Gemma's boyfriend howled in despair. Anneli, shocked by the news of another friend's body being found, angrily dyed her hair and went back into town on some unknowable, defiant mission.

This was well acted and sensitively told, but very hard to watch. Even the police solving the case didn't give it a happy ending.

Related topics: