“I’m really angry that he would want to look at this stuff… when he had me. What’s wrong with me?” Kate asks the camera, her mouth twisting.
She is sat outside in her garden – she’s been living alone since a week after her husband’s arrest for downloading indecent images of children.
“Why not just… stick with what was right, [with] what he should have been looking at, which was me.”
Her voice cracks.
It’s an agonising moment in what is a powerful documentary. But what makes Channel 4 film Married to a Paedophile even more extraordinary, is that while it’s ‘Kate’s’ story and voice that we’re listening to, her words are coming out of Little Boy Blue actress Sinéad Keenan’s mouth.
The innovative documentary uses lip-syncing throughout its 90 minutes, as we’re introduced to Kate, her husband Alex and their two daughters, and Helen, an older woman whom we meet as she’s preparing for her husband’s release from prison, following a 16-month sentence – he also downloaded explicit images of children.
The voices of all of the five real-life contributors (whose names were changed to protect their identities) are matched with actors, who then lip-sync precisely, down to every breath, every swallow.
“About a year ago we started recording with [the contributors] ,” says Colette Camden, the film’s director and producer. “We’d go and hang out with them, talk to them, but only recording sound as you would a radio documentary.”
After cutting the collected audio down to 90 minutes, Camden’s team then cast actors whom “you could conceivably think that that was [the contributor’s] voice coming out of them”, but who could also match the inflections of their given voice.
Keenan (Little Boy Blue, Being Human) tells RadioTimes.com that she memorised her lines “like learning a piece of music,” listening to Kate’s voice with a beat track below it “over and over and over,” so that she might master “a different pattern of speech, a different kind of cadence”.
The process was “so incredibly challenging” for the actors, Camden admits: “Some people say it’s like that exercise where you have to pat your head and rub your stomach. But it’s harder than that!”
During shoots on location, the actors would then wear hidden earpieces, which would play the audio track with the contributors’ voices on, and the actors could mime along.
When we first meet Kate, she’s still angry and bitter about the revelations regarding Alex – we see her scroll through online comments left by trolls. She shows the camera crew her wedding dress, reminiscing about what a happy day it was. But when Camden (off camera) asks her if she could forgive Alex, Kate’s smile freezes.
“No,” she says.
“As far as she was aware, until that morning at 7am when there was this dawn raid on the house [police arrested Alex and seized the family laptops], she was part of a very happy marriage,” says Keenan. “Her past, her present and her future are all taken from her, in a way.”
Keenan refers to a scene in which Camden asks Kate what she’ll do with the old family photo albums.
“[Kate] says, ‘Oh, I’ll put them in the attic and look at them one day’. There’s still that sadness that she will forever carry around,” Keenan explains.
Both Camden and Keenan stress that the film will hopefully show audiences “the ripple effect” – as Keenan puts it – of child abuse and paedophilia.
“Because of the form we’ve used, it’s allowed us access into a very interesting, otherwise inaccessible area of complicated human behaviour,” Camden says.
“It might make us see things from the wives’ and families’ perspectives, and not demonise them,” while Camden also hopes that “the offender doesn’t become the monster”.
She adds that the contributors found the experience “cathartic” and are hoping “something useful” will come out of the film.
Alex (played by Bodyguard actor Nicholas Gleaves) has had to leave his teaching career, and is living in a caravan in a field and working night shifts. He says he suffers from depression and porn addiction, and we follow him as he embarks on sex addiction therapy and visits his grown-up daughters, with whom he’s re-established a tentative relationship.
Camden found Alex’s visit to see them around the time of his eldest daughter’s birthday to be the most moving moment during the original recording process.
“That was extraordinary, really, because they were talking about such a raw and difficult experience. And I thought the daughters were incredible,” she says. “They were so courageous… they were willing to say they were angry with him, but still wanting to believe that he was getting help… to get over his addiction and not revert to looking at that material again.”
Kate and Helen were both approached first by the team, before Alex and the daughters also agreed to be part of the documentary – Helen’s husband, Robert, appears on camera but never agrees to speak to the crew.
“[Robert] didn’t want to confront [the reasons behind his arrest] really with anyone,” Camden says. “[But] he could see that it was a good thing for Helen. She really wanted to do it. Who knows, perhaps he felt [that] he owed her one?”
Helen’s story is perhaps the most interesting. When we first meet her, she’s dressed up as though for a date – ready to pick up Robert from prison. “I couldn’t sleep for excitement,” she tells the camera. “You can’t switch off those feelings. I’ve loved him for 44 years.”
But after Robert’s return, Helen (played by Abigail McKern) is forced into a position of mediating between Robert and their son and his wife. She also refuses to let Robert stay in the family home because of their grandchildren, renting him a nearby flat instead.
“I never really know what he’s thinking, not really,” she says of Robert at one point during the film. “Some questions are too painful to ask. Like whether he had any inappropriate thoughts of our grandchildren.
“It’s too unbearable,” she continues. “I don’t think I can cope with knowing.”
By the end of the film, she’s had a revelation. “I feel free,” she tells Camden, after making a big decision about her future.
“Helen was very nice about Abigail [the actor who played her],” the director adds. “She said, ‘She looks how I feel’.”
Camden hopes that the documentary will encourage viewers to feel compassion towards people like Helen.
“If you do come to [the film] with a set of assumptions, you may just question them,” she says.
“Not only do [families of paedophiles] have to deal with the shock and associated shame,” she adds, “but they can’t always easily walk away from it, and need to be supported rather than shamed.”
Married to a Paedophile airs Monday 3rd September at 9pm on Channel 4
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