A place where no-one worked, where residents wandered around in their pyjamas, smoked 60 a day and collected £286.60 benefits each week. This was the image of the Moorside estate of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire portrayed by national media in the winter of 2008. The Sun likened the council estate to “Beirut – only worse.”
The new BBC1 drama The Moorside is based on a real-life kidnapping of Shannon Matthews. It attempts to revise the media’s portrayal by exhibiting the story of a community whose residents were labelled as feeble, feckless and worthless, but gave absolutely everything to mobilise locals and see the safe return of a young child. However, the new drama has been slammed by Shannon’s grandparents who claim the TV show is a “disgrace” and say their granddaughter “deserves to live her life in peace.” This begs the question – should real crimes be converted into TV dramas?
“For a momentary period, the nation’s focus was on a minuscule corner of West Yorkshire, where nine-year-old Shannon Matthews disappeared”
For a momentary period, the nation’s focus was on a minuscule corner of West Yorkshire where nine-year-old Shannon Matthews disappeared after leaving school. A 24-day man hunt led the police to discover Shannon alive underneath a divan bed in the house of Michael Donavan, who was the uncle of Shannon’s stepdad. It was then revealed Shannon’s mother, Karen Matthews, was involved in the scheme. Both Donavan and Matthews were jailed for kidnaping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice. The scandal not only brought the attention to the Matthews family, but also to the working-class community, with suggestions made towards its over dependency on state welfare. David Cameron used the turmoil to exhibit “our broken society”, before going on to say the disturbing incident exhibited a community “whose pillars are crime, unemployment and addiction; where decency fights a losing battle against degradation and despair.” Such characterisation enraged local residents, and the BBC1 drama surrounds the life of Julie Bushby and Natalie Murray who both lived on the estate and were extremely close to Karen. Bushby stated: “people said we were like Shameless” with Murray adding, “I lived on there for 21 years. Everybody watched out for everybody else. They watched out for your cars, for your homes, your children. If a new family moved in they were made to feel welcome. It was just lovely.”
“The programme attempts to bring human stories to life; to dive behind the headlines and take us directly into the heart of the story”
An introductory statement to the show states: “what follows is based on extensive research, interviews and published accounts. Some scenes have been created for the purposes of dramatisation.” The Moorside, now available on BBC iPlayer, consisted of two hour-long episodes and showed very little of the Matthew family or Shannon. Sheridan Smith who played Julie Bushby in the series argued it demonstrates “themes of faith and trust in human nature.”
The programme attempts to bring human stories to life; to dive behind the headlines and take us directly into the heart of the story; to understand a community that was defined more by prejudice than genuine consideration. Writer Neil McKay declared “it was a story of people who didn’t have a lot, giving a lot, giving everything. I hope one of the things we have done is to show people as people.” So, while it may appear controversial to dramatise and broadcast real life crimes, often the aims and intentions driving the production prove virtuous. The Moorside seeks to challenge the media-built reputation of the Yorkshire town and give back a voice to its community.