Recreating the story of the campaign to find missing Shannon Matthews was always going to be a controversial decision, but the BBC are nothing if not daring. So, this two-part drama explores the case, from disappearance to the horrifying conclusion which began to unfold at the end of the first episode.
Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby, friend of Karen Matthews (played by an almost unrecognisable Gemma Whelan) was in the spotlight as the key person who led the campaign, rallied the neighbourhood and who’s determination to find the missing nine year old never waivered. It’s going to be interesting to watch the aftermath in next week’s final episode and to discover how Bushby dealt with the fact that she had put all her energy into finding a little girl who was the victim of an inside job. Smith is not a bad choice for the role, she puts in a performance de force with gusto. Faye McKeever was equally well cast as friend, Petra Jamieson, it showed a different side to her capabilities as an actress as she is so well known for Trollied. I was extremely impressed by her portrayal. Gemma Whelan was quite a revelation as Karen Matthews, she matched the facial expressions that, upon reflection, were quite prominent when the real-life convict made appearances all those years ago. Sian Brooke also put in a strong performance as best friend Natalie, who seems to be suspecting foul play from early on in the twenty four day search. Siobhan Finneran stole the show, though, so incredibly accurate as DC Christine Freeman. The drama thus far has been female dominated and that is exactly how the investigation appeared to roll on the various broadcasts in 2008.
The roughness around the edges which surely should be a factor was not always evident. I question the accuracy of the peacefulness of the solidarity which ran as the over-riding theme, but there’s always room for interpretation, I suppose. I wouldn’t say that I was thrilled to be re-visiting such a horrendous story, but the dramatisation has me hooked and keenly anticipating the second part.
Overall verdict ~ Better than I expected, the casting is spot on and there is an element of sensitivity running through the programme which is only right. Although the story is one that I am familiar with and I remain acutely shocked by to this day, the second part will make for fascinating viewing too, I have no doubt.