“Er, what was the point in all of that?” is the question that springs to mind at the end of Channel 4’s one-off domestic abuse drama, Unspeakable.
Indira Varma plays Jo, a mother who receives an anonymous tip-off that her 11-year-old daughter is being abused by her new live-in boyfriend, Danny. “Your boyfriend and Katie. Something’s going on. It’s not right,” reads the text.
Before the unwelcome news arrives one Friday morning, Jo and Danny (Luke Treadaway) are completely loved-up without a care in the world. But after the suspicion creeps its way into Jo’s mind, everything about Danny takes on a new meaning.
Jo is concerned about Katie because she’s acting quiet, so Danny tries to help, saying, “If you’re worried about Katie, I could speak to her, spend some time with her. She might open up while you’re away.” While on any other day this offer would seem normal – helpful, even – both Jo and the viewer can’t help but think it sounds sinister.
Jo’s torment continues all weekend while she puts off confronting Danny: she confides in a friend and an NSPCC counsellor, she tries to trace the number of the anonymous texter, she attempts to reach out to Katie… until the truth finally outs.
In the end, we find out that it was Jo’s bitter ex-husband, Des (Neil Maskell), who sent the texts – and the accusation was completely and utterly groundless. He just made it up. Why? Because he was jealous that she had moved on and he hadn’t.
It was a bizarre conclusion that left you wondering what was the point of it all. Why raise an issue as ugly and thorny as child sex abuse – a subject matter that the drama dealt with well – only to back away from it altogether at the close? That’s not to say this is something we want to see more of on TV, but to take on a topic so tricky only to back away felt like a strange decision.
The drama is not without its merits. Unspeakable is beautifully shot and Varma is totally believable in her role as a mother whose mind is poisoned by a lie. It lures in the viewer – after we see the text, it is almost impossible not to inherit Jo’s paranoia and see everything Danny says or does as suspicious.
Over 60-minutes, we get a compelling account of how one single text message can unravel your life and act as a catalyst for destruction – but whether the dark and complex issue of domestic child abuse was the right means by which to make this point, I am not convinced.