Jack Thorne is kicking off 2018 with a series as challenging and thought-provoking as his Bafta-winning historic sex abuse drama National Treasure. The new four-parter, Kiri, has been described by its lead star Sarah Lancashire as “the most affecting read-through I’ve ever sat through”.
“I’d never heard anything like it before,” she added. “It was quite extraordinary.”
The series is about the abduction of a nine-year-old black girl named Kiri, who is about to be adopted by her white foster family. Sarah Lancashire’s experienced social worker Miriam finds herself at the centre of the case – being blamed by the police, journalists and even her colleagues. As with National Treasure, Kiri has a firm focus on the behaviour of the press and the way the media tells a story.
Kiri has personal significance to Thorne, whose mother was a carer for adults with learning difficulties when he was young. “I grew up going to the day centre all the time and hanging out with her,” he explained after a Kiri press screening. “When she was doing residential care we’d spend Christmas in a home, so I’ve always wanted to write about the caring professions.”
He went on to say that his mother has four children and her brother is a paranoid schizophrenic, so she has “literally spent her whole life caring for others”.
“I was trying to tell a story about someone who was real, who had flaws, but for whom caring was such an instinctive thing,” he said.
Thorne’s personal connection to Kiri is two-fold, in fact, because he and his partner once considered adopting a child. “My wife and I took seven rounds of IVF to have a kid, so we started looking into it and after realising how long the process would be, decided to keep going with IVF.” He described those who do manage to adopt as “valiant”.
Kiri will undoubtedly shine a light on the incredible challenges that social workers like Thorne’s mother face in the UK. The positive stories that are published about them are so few and far between, with care-home neglect and abuse scandals so often dominating the headlines. The 2017 drama Three Girls – which centred around the Rochdale grooming and sex trafficking case – showed how a sexual health worker fought for justice and started to shift the public perception of those in the care professions, and Kiri is intended to do the same.
Lancashire noted how “it is an odd thing that we don’t ever hear great things about social services, it’s always the negative that hits the public domain”. Her Kiri co-star Wunmi Mosaku, who plays the detective in charge of uncovering the truth, also deplored the negative depiction of social workers in the press.
“My flatmate is a social worker and I see the aftermath of work every day: the sleepless nights, the anxiety and the stress every single day,” she said. “You don’t hear about the stuff that goes right – kids getting into university and kids becoming great parents even if they’re young and have a bad history. You just hear about the sad stories in the press.
“People don’t notice social workers until something bad happens.”
Lancashire added: “I think all public sector workers have a very difficult job because they’re subject to such scrutiny, and of course that will get no easier as this public desire for transparency in every area of life continues.”
The issue of transracial adoption tackled in Kiri – of white parents adopting black children – is a particularly thorny one, with some arguing that it confuses the child’s sense of identity. “With this,” said Thorne, “we are investigating one of the most complicated things I’ve come across, in terms of race and class and how we parent our vulnerable kids.”
Finding the answer to how transracial adoption should be handled is no easy feat, as Thorne has realised. “I don’t think there are many easy answers to how we deal with those vulnerable kids,” he said, “I always like things where I don’t know the answer. And I still don’t know the answer.
“We have a very complicated relationship with race in this country. I don’t think we’ve worked it out and I’m just trying to pose questions.”