Creating a show like Clique is "scary" for a female writer – but it's also necessary
With Clique returning for a second series on BBC3, show creator Jess Brittain opens up on what makes the psychological thriller so special to write
Clique is that rare thing for BBC3: a returning drama series.
While other shows have quickly come and gone since BBC3 went online only, the teen thriller following the story of Edinburgh uni student Holly McStay has lived to stream another day.
Clique series two returns this Saturday 10th November – and writer Jess Brittain is rightly thrilled.
“There’s not many uni set dramas and channels like BBC3 to allow you to dive into some difficult areas and cast a bunch of young, unknown actors and loads of women,” she tells RadioTimes.com.
“It’s a massive privilege.”
The 29-year-old writer, who cut her teeth on iconic teen series Skins before creating Clique, also hints that the drama won't necessarily follow the same formula in the new run of episodes.
Series one followed Holly (played by Synnøve Karlsen) as she took down sinister organisation Solasta after best friend Georgia (Aisling Franciosi) was seduced by a clique of the company’s female interns.
The second series of Clique now focuses on a band of brothers, whom Holly gets caught up with as she battles the demons still haunting her from the year before.
But while the new series may focus on a group of boys, Brittain insists the strength of female friendships are still at the heart of the show.
“It’s still very much a show about female friendship and a woman’s perspective,” she says. “It’s still very much about Holly’s relationship with other women. The clique, the male clique, test her and push her into different areas, but her relationship with other women are still the centrepiece of the show.”
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As series two opens, it's clear that lead character Holly has experienced traumatic changes since series one.
Once bold, brave and fiercely loyal, the events of last year have seen Holly become withdrawn. Now working at a bar, the second year student hides behind a fun and glitzy Instagram page, pretending she lives an exciting life. In reality however, she has no friends, goes to no parties and keeps her head down.
“I love Holly, she’s the centre of the show,” Brittain says of the character. “Lots of her material is difficult to write because she’s really put through the wringer; I wanted to show a different journey for her this series, which meant pushing things out in a different direction.
“I have a protectiveness of her because she embodies, I think, the anxiety subject matter of Clique: the worry of being a good or not good person. She’s the manifestation of that, which is a heavy load to bear.
"Holly’s hiding behind a façade of normality – but it’s not something you can up keep for long.”
While Instagram had not even been invented while Brittain was a student at Leeds University in the mid 2000s, it’s not just the rise of social media that she thinks has changed life for young people in Britain.
“It does feel like there’s an expectation to be completely sorted nowadays,” she explains. “We’re not very forgiving of young people testing things out anymore, which I think was a bit of a change compared to when I was there.”
Having said that, Brittain believes the memories she drew on while writing Clique of heading off to university – the fears, the feelings of inadequacy – still ring true.
“University is an incredibly intense time,” she says. “In the first series, Holly sees the female Clique and they look like a perfume ad. That’s what it feels like when you’re that age when there’s a group of women that have their stuff together and seem to be performing in a way that you aren't.
“While the subject matter of Clique may be heightened and not entirely realistic, I do think they echo back to relatively ubiquitous feelings of insecurity and anxiety.”
That "heightened" reality of Clique does come with its own difficulties, however.
Series one featured scenes of brutal attacks, discussion of sexual assault and suicide, and the second series is set to explore similarly harrowing storylines.
“It’s very difficult to have a right way of depicting something that’s quite so graphic,” she says. “I don’t offer the correct way of looking at a subject matter or experience and simply want to hang out something to be discussed – and disagreed with.
"It’s very scary as a female writer to head into that area. But it’s the responsibility of drama to explore the complicated nature of these things.”
Clique series two is released weekly on BBC3, beginning Saturday 10th November 2018