Gwyneth Hughes’ modern slavery drama Doing Money is almost too tough to watch

The BBC’s harrowing Why Slavery? season stuns viewers into inaction, argues Radio Times' TV critic Alison Graham

Anca Dumitra in Doing Money (BBC, EH)

After watching Gwyneth Hughes’s fact-based drama Doing Money I went home stifled by a cloud of misery that couldn’t be dispersed, even by the repeats of ancient Big Bang Theories I watched long into the evening just to try to flush the horror from my system.

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I found Doing Money so overwhelming – the true story of Ana, a young Romanian woman working as a cleaner in Britain who was abducted by a trafficking gang from a London street and forced into sex slavery. I was harrowed as she was repeatedly brutalised into submission by a series of men who treated her savagely. To them, she and the other girls became nothing. They had nothing, they were nothing. They had no passport, no state, no home, they weren’t even allowed to keep their real names.

And in a detail that moved me because it was so pointlessly cruel, the horrible woman who kept the women (and often very young, sometimes underage girls) in check took Ana’s glasses, leaving her peering through a blurry fog. Though maybe this is just the fellow feeling of another wearer of glasses. I know I’d be lost without mine, even in the most benign situations. God knows how I’d feel in an extreme of despair, fear and pain.

But can you bring yourself to watch it? To be ruthlessly honest, if it wasn’t part of my job, I think I’d have given Doing Money a wide berth. We made it our main pick of the day in our magazine listings, but more in hope than expectation. In my heart of hearts I know that it’s probably just too tough to watch and I can’t judge anyone who turns away.

Doing Money is part of the BBC’s Why Slavery? season, timed to coincide with International Anti Slavery Day on 18th October, and includes six other films commissioned in collaboration with the Open University for BBC2, BBC4 and BBC iPlayer.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch any of the other films in the season because seasons about anything difficult always leave me feeling helpless and hopeless. Because there’s nothing I can do. I know modern slavery is monstrous, but I can’t handle such a storm force of misery concentrated into six films because I can’t help.

Doing Money (BBC, EH)

Watching Doing Money I yearned for someone to show Ana (a remarkable performance from Anca Dumitra, who will pierce your heart) just the tiniest bit of kindness. She couldn’t even contact her mum. She was utterly lost. And I could do nothing, just as I can do nothing for all of the other countless Anas out there who live without hope.

I know seasons are meant to act as a focus, and to shake us out of our complacency. But it’s helplessness, not complacency, that makes even compassionate, intelligent people turn away from such a bombardment. A Woman Captured, Selling Children, Maid in Hell, I Was a Yazidi Slave, Jailed in America… All are amazing films, I’m sure. But taken together the impact is just too great.

I’m not sure how much good such seasons actually do. So much horror shocks decent people into inaction, leaving us feeling that whatever we might try to do, it just won’t be enough.

Doing Money airs on Monday 5th November at 9pm on BBC2

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To report a case of modern slavery call the helpline on 0800 0121 700 or report it online at the modern slavery helpline website