James Walton

Thinking outside the box

Plus: ITV’s Next of Kin is much more than a box-ticking exercise

These days a genuinely controversial TV drama series would surely be one with an all-white, male-led cast that examined the problems of a bunch of middle-class people. (Just imagine the Twitter outrage!) But while we await that — possibly for a while yet — we’ve now got two highly promising new shows of the more approved ‘controversial’ kind: where racial issues are tackled in a thoughtful and scrupulously responsible way.

Kiri (Channel 4, Wednesday) has the distinct advantage of starring Sarah Lancashire, whose character Miriam proves that TV mavericks needn’t always be doctors, lawyers or cops. They can, it seems, also be social workers. So it was that Miriam was first seen adding something a little stronger to her breakfast coffee. She then headed out into Bristol to show what an all-round good egg she is: delivering a present of sausages to a local crack addict, and telling a teenage boy who’d just broken a girl’s arm that he was really a great kid.

Her next task, though, didn’t go as smoothly. Nine-year-old Kiri was about to be adopted by a middle-class white couple — but before that happened, Miriam thought the girl should be reminded of her roots by paying an unsupervised visit to her black paternal grandparents. (And if you haven’t seen the programme yet, you may want to look away now.) Kiri was then apparently abducted from their house, with her granddad’s connivance, by her birth father, who has convictions for GBH and drug-dealing. Even when the girl’s disappearance made the Six O’Clock News, Miriam still thought everything would end well — which only made Lancashire’s stricken face when the body was discovered all the more wrenching.

Faced with the crisis, her bosses soon snapped into action, denouncing her decision to set up the visit as ‘bold’ and hanging her out to dry.

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