The Moorside

Starring: Sheridan Smith, Gemma Whelan, Sian Brooke, Siobhan Finneran, Tom Hanson, Dean Andrews
Creator: Neil McKay
Rating: *****

Air Date: Available on BBC iPlayer now 

I actually wasn't going to review this, but I feel compelled to do so after finishing watching the two episodes. Every now and then, and most often it is a British series, a television drama will completely blow me away, hook me and fill me with so many varying emotions. The Moorside is the latest to do so, and what an unbelievable story it is. Even more shocking, it is a true story; the story of the disappearance of Shannon Matthews. 

Sian Brooke
For anyone that doesn't know, in 2008, mother Karen Matthews reported her daughter missing, and a massive, month long search ensued to find her. Locals rallied together, police turned the estate inside out, and eventually Shannon was found. The shocks really began then, as it was revealed that Karen Matthews and and her boyfriends uncle actually planned the kidnapping in the hopes of claiming the reward money. From that point on Karen Matthews became 'Britian's most hated mum'.

Now we're all caught up there, lets discuss BBC One's 2-part drama, The Moorside. Leading the cast are three tremendous actresses. Gemma Whelan portrays the offending mother, Karen Matthews; Sian Brooke plays suspicious neighbour, Natalie Brown; and Sheridan Smith is the loyal friend that "rallies the troops", Julie Bushby. Each actress takes full control of their scenes, and encapsulates everything about this disturbingly true story.

Sian Brooke is Natalie Brown, she is Karen's friend and neighbour, but she is also the first to grow confused and worried about how true Karen's story is. She is powerful woman who isn't willing to fill Karen's mind with lies or hope, and Brooke shows this with subtlety and thought. She delivers each line with real intent and doesn't dare let that slip for a moment. Brooke delivers some powerful scenes, in the second episode especially, and her determination to learn the truth is brutal and harsh, but done in a caring and mothering place. It is a strong performance, and Sian
Sheridan Smith
Brooke's thoughts and decisions are executed perfectly.

Julie Bushby, who the phenomenal Sheridan Smith takes on, is a loyal friend, and the heart of the story. She is determined to get Shannon back, and takes no nonsense in her attitude towards the police and getting her fellow estate dwellers in rallying support. Smith goes though a complete physical transformation for this role, and it pays off. She walks differently, holds herself differently, and loses all inhibitions and glamour by ridding her face of make-up and wearing baggy clothing. Sheridan Smith is almost unrecognisable. This helps to form a well planned character, and helps us as the audience to fully immerse. 

As always, Smith delivers emotional punch after emotional punch. Seeing her quietly and emotionally realise the horrible truth in the back of the car, comfort her fired through losing her children, deliver a truly powerful monologue in court or wrestle with her inner turmoil as she loses trust in her friend; each emotion s different, raw and passionate; and Smith brings it each and everytime. For me, this is her best performance to date, and that is saying something.

Gemma Whelan & Sheridan Smith
Standing out above the crowd is Gemma Whelan. Going through the biggest physical transformation, to the point where she is unrecognisable, Whelan fully embodies Karen Matthews. Through episode one, she makes many bizarre and confusing decisions, both to her fellow characters and to the audience. She slips between mourning mum an carefree Karen sometimes smoothly and sometimes not; but that works perfectly for a woman like Karen. She isn't the brightest. and many of her actions are childlike. What Whelan manages to do is give Matthews' heart, which makes the audience uneasy because suddenly they care about her. The scenes where she loses her youngest children are truly heartbreaking, and the when she finally reveals the 'truth'...well, I cried. All of her motions flood out and truth after truth come flying out. What's amazing though is Karen is no longer a woman, she is a broken child wanting love. It is a gruelling and upsetting moment, and Whelan knocks it out of the park.

The writing from Neil McKay is honest, heartfelt and gritty. No subject is off limit, and despite most people knowing the story, The Moorside still manages to be shocking and I learnt new things I never knew before. No one really knows what the truth behind Shannon Matthews' disappearance, and maybe we never will. The Moorside tries to answer the questions we have the answers too, whilst giving an insight into the people that tried to help bring her home, and 'Britain's Most Hated Mum'. Nothing is quite as it seems, but what it showed me is that maybe Karen Matthews wasn't evil (though her actions were), but rather a stupid and naive girl trapped in a woman's body...or she is cleverer than she let on.

The Moorside - Promo