Overshadowed: a hyper-real, unflinching insight into the grip of anorexia

BBC3’s YouTube-style confessional drama is a piercing display of how eating disorders can take hold and rip relationships apart, writes Ellie Harrison

overshadowed

When we first meet Imogene, she is a flouncy sixth-former, full of vim and vigour and gingerly skipping about the house with her new video camera, excited to create a new vlog about her daily life. She jokes about the imperceptible “chicken wings” under her arms and turns red as a lobster during a 5k attempt. It’s funny.

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But before long, she is maniacally working out in her bedroom, skipping meals and obsessively weighing herself. Her school-friends worry about her for having only a cigarette and half a cracker for lunch, and it’s not so funny any more.

A mounting sense of dread creeps in as we watch Imogene descend into anorexia, and both her life and her body begin to deteriorate.

overshadowed

Overshadowed is a BBC3 series based on a stage play written by Eva O’Connor, who has suffered from the eating disorder herself. In eight sharp, ten-minute episodes we follow Imogene as she falls into the grips of an illness that nearly destroys her life.

Sixth-former Imogene is played by Michelle Fox, a fierce young talent with a terrifically expressive face and a warm, Irish lilt. At first, Imogene and her sister Tara – played both movingly and humorously by Emma Willis – are extremely tight knit. But scenes of a happy family life quickly distort as the disease takes hold, with hugs and laughter replaced by tears, curt conversations and screaming fights.

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It is thanks to the vlogging format that we are with Imogene every step of the way. The shoddy camera work gives Overshadowed a hyper-real quality, and Imogene’s videos are close-up and confessional. They feel authentic, too: when the phone rings and interrupts her vlog, Imogene pauses, rolling her eyes in that way only teenage-girls do. At points it feels so real that I find myself flinching when Imogene is at her most hysterical.

While Overshadowed centres around a struggle with anorexia, it is also an important coming-of-age drama. We witness Imogene meet her first boyfriend, navigate the divorce of her parents and try weed for the first time. These are all pretty normal developments in the life of a 17-year-old, but there’s a demon named Anna inside Imogene’s head that tries to isolate her from all of this.

Anna – who represents anorexia – is played hauntingly by playwright O’Connor. She criticises Imogene’s body, laments her when she eats “badly”, tugs on her arm, cajoles her into exercising, hisses in her ear. Nobody else sees her as she exists only in Imogene’s head, the proverbial devil on her shoulder. Her constant shadow. It’s an unsettling performance from O’Connor, who has triumphed in depicting a topic that is clearly very close to home.

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Overshadowed is available in full on BBC3 from 10am on Sunday 1st October