Writer/Director: Paul Wilmshurst
Line Producer: Jules Hussey
Executive Producers: Judy Counihan,
Dave Nath, Liz Warner
90 mins, Digibeta
TX August 2007
Betty for Channel 4 & More4
A powerful, harrowing, provocative factual drama. Suburban housewife Liz discovers that husband Stephen is abusing their daughter. She confronts him and reports him to the authorities, but also decides to try to help him recover from what must be "a sickness". Stephen is tried and imprisoned. When he leaves prison, Liz arranges for him to receive treatment at a residential clinic for sex offenders, where he undergoes intensive therapy. Stephen finally faces his guilt and the consequences of his abuse. The family decide to rebuild their lives together. Is this right? Is it even possible? And – if they do - what's the emotional cost?Lucy Cohu and Derek Riddell; with George Anton, Lolita Chakrabarti, Thomas Craig, Michael Culkin, Lucinda Dryzek, Clare Grogan, Diane Fletcher, Samantha Janus, David Kennedy, Akbar Kurtha, Kate O'Toole, Madeleine Rakic-Platt, Lucy Russell, Cathy Tyson, Ray Wyre
Lucy Cohu - Winner International Emmy Award for Best Actress
Winner RTS Craft Award for Best Editing, Drama - Luke Dunkley
Nominated for Broadcast Award for Best Single Drama
Nominated for Grierson Award for Best Drama Documentary
Listed in Observer Top 10 TV Programmes of the Year 2007
Listed in The Times Top 50 TV Programmes of the Decade
A brave, unsettling and commendable drama... Riddell's performance as Stephen is both slow and magnificent, as is Cohu's as Liz. This is impressive, low-key film-making.
Although painful to watch, it would be hard to praise Paul Wilmshurst’s drama too highly. Adapted from a real case, a wife (Lucy Cohu) discovers that her husband of 18 years (Derek Riddell) has been systematically abusing their daughter. “What it felt like,” she says, “was my family having its guts wrenched out and ripped apart.” With two blistering performances at its core, Forgiven describes how she reacts and what happens to their relationship. Every stage of this terrible journey defies expectations and gives off the unmistakeable stench of truth. “You can’t understand,” she says, “and you can’t comprehend – until it happens to you – how you will react or feel.” It is easy to condemn child abuse; it is far harder to understand it, to engage with the abuser and try to stop it. That is what this superlative drama is all about.
Be warned: this is intense viewing, the kind of thing that leaves you an emotional wreck, so don't put your feet up expecting to be entertained. TV dramas routinely use child abuse as the peg for a lurid plotline or two, but this is different: based on a true story and drawn from interviews with the people involved, it's a real, unflinching attempt to get to the heart of something very dark. Liz, a suburban mum with two daughters, discovers her husband has been abusing their older child. As played by Lucy Cohu (recently, the best thing about Cape Wrath), the scene where we see the bafflement and pity on Liz's face is heartbreaking - the first of several moments that may have you weeping. As the horror unfolds, Cohu is extraordinary (she was Bafta nominated last year and will be again at this rate) and Derek Riddell slow-burns in the thankless role of her husband. But credit must go to writer/director Paul Wilmshurst for shaping what could have been a purely harrowing story into something with a sneaking sense of redemption - and a twist in the tail.
Sometimes it seems as if TV drama has to fall into such rigidly defined genres that when a production breaks out of these moulds, its emotional intensity can stay with you after the credits have rolled... Forgiven tells the story of a family with two young daughters, the eldest of whom tearfully tells her mum, Liz, that daddy has been touching her inappropriately. Liz (the reliably brilliant Lucy Cohu) takes the decision to call in the authorities and her husband, Stephen, turns himself in. But while the reaction of the mother and girls forms the basis of the beginning of the programme, it is the desire of Stephen (Derek Riddell) to come to terms with what he has done that will have you staring at the screen, fluctuating between thinking he is a pervert or a soul to be saved. One scene where he explores what his daughter might have felt when he touched her is mouth-agape riveting. Forgiven is far from easy viewing, but try to bear with it.
Forgiven doesn't offer any solid answers, but it tackles this sensitive and difficult subject with commendable restraint. Writer/director Paul Wilmshurst manages to paint a convincing portrait of ordinary people dealing with an unimaginable horror, and never attempts to judge or sensationalise. At the heart of this thought-provoking drama are two queasily intense performances from Riddell and Cohu, who are never less than believable. Riddell perfectly captures the arrogant delusions and subsequent mental anguish of his character, while Cohu is compelling as a woman faced with the kind of impossible emotional decisions none of us would ever wish to confront.
Forgiven was pretty much the most nuanced drama dealing with this subject that I've seen, and the really good thing about it was that it appealed to one's intellect rather than one's emotions or instincts, at a time when there is an almost totalitarian demand for the latter rather than the former to be engaged when approaching this subject. That alone marked Forgiven out as exceptional drama, and happily the script attracted actors with consummate ability to pull this tricky material off.
Mercifully unsensational, this is held together by a devastating performance by Lucy Cohu as the loving mother.
Based on a true story, Channel 4's Forgiven was British drama at its best. Touchingly telling the at times horrific tale of child abuse in a close-knit family, it was handled and performed excellently. Lucy Cohu, 36, is rightfully turning into a major player in UK drama.
The naturalistic acting of Lucy Cohu as Liz, the wife, and Derek Riddell as Stephen, her husband, was so faultless it was as if we were watching reality.
Liz (Cohu) and Stephen (Derek Riddell) were a regular happily married (for 18 years) middle-class couple with a pair of daughters, the eldest of whom, Sophie, was 10. Aside from the fact that Stephen's job - never given a title, a context or an employer - involved monitoring internet child pornography, this was a wholly unremarkable family - until the night Sophie came downstairs in tears, hugged mummy and indicated that daddy had done something wrong and she wanted it to stop. Normally this would be the point where I'd sigh, hit the pause button, look at my watch and stick the kettle on, but I hadn't counted on Cohu's response being quite such an astounding piece of acting. In the space of a couple of minutes she made the terrible and entirely convincing journey from the sort of slightly distracted 'there there, darling!' mummy-by-numbers stuff that women apply daily to the soothing of grazed knees, temperatures and tiffs with playmates to the agonised, panic-stricken, enraged lioness response of a woman understanding that Daddy hadn't simply stepped out of line with an angry word or a smack but was in fact a wicked stranger who had betrayed his entire family. These scenes were brilliant and brutal and ensured I'd go the distance, but I hadn't - being a woman - banked on Stephen's own journey being quite as compelling as Liz's. Riddell (an actor who might reasonably be described as underrated were it not for the fact that he works constantly, equally comfortable in police stations and period drawing rooms) had the wholly unenviable (but presumably deliciously professionally challenging) task of making us care about him, when instead of being banished from the storyline he became its focus... With performances of quite awesome range and intensity, Forgiven told a story that entirely challenged my preconceptions - not only about child abuse, but about love and marriage, which takes some doing.
This was an admirable attempt to avoid tabloid simplicities and show us that human motives and urges are irreducibly complex - whether Steve sought out his work as part of a child-porn internet monitoring group because he was a paedophile, or whether the work created or normalised impulses that might otherwise have stayed dormant or controllable was raised but never neatly answered - and that people, for reasons they themselves may be forever unable to know or articulate, do not behave as you might expect. It resisted the temptation to provide pat solutions where none exist and bravely raised the unfashionable possibility of redemption instead of pandering to our baser instincts which would prefer blanket condemnation. And the two leads were astonishing.
The role of the wife is pivotal to Forgiven. Although the film is taken from real life, and based on in-depth interviews with those concerned, we really have to believe in Liz and her desire to save a marriage that most women wouldn't so much have walked as sprinted away from. But Wilmshurst has cast well in Lucy Cohu, an intelligent, passionate actor who really inhabits her roles. This is deeply informed, well-controlled drama with some deftly telling scenes... There is a sting in the tail, but not any of the ones you might have been half-expecting - and the closing credits suddenly make full sense of this particular redemption song. For in its quiet way, Forgiven is campaigning television drama of the first order.
There was an almost religious quality to the faith in the possibility of salvation in writer/director Paul Wilmshurst’s harrowing drama. What made it extraordinary was his capacity for making the viewer debate constantly whether Stephen not only deserved such faith but whether he could, realistically, be expected to live up to it. That, and whether Liz was being selfish, naive or saintly to the point of madness in offering it. Each time Liz’s belief flickered, died and reignited, we were forced to re-examine our own assumptions and prejudices. Lucy Cohu’s incredible, heart-rending performance ensured we felt wired directly into Liz’s wildly yo-yoing emotions. Derek Riddell’s perfectly judged blend of guilt and ambiguity meant we never stopped second-guessing and questioning Stephen. But perhaps most powerful of all was knowing from the outset that their story was real. The words “based on a true story” can be among the tritest and most misleading in TV and film. But they rang absolutely true here – a resonance that kept up long after the credits rolled as, presumably, this struggle for redemption continues in real life.
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