I Am Kirsty, review: A visceral, heartbreaking tale of exploitation
It wouldn’t be right to say that I enjoyed I Am Kirsty (Channel 4), even though it was a fine piece of drama. This collaboration between director Dominic Savage and actress Samantha Morton was a superbly executed piece of work.
Morton was viscerally credible as a Kirsty, a single mother with two young daughters whose boyfriend deserted her, taking everything but the kitchen sink and leaving her with nothing but crippling debts. Savages’s judderingly atmospheric hand-held photography caught perfectly the sense of a woman overwhelmed by circumstance and forced, ultimately, into sex work, when she was taken advantage of – again – by another predatory male.
The issue of survival sex is of course topical at the moment, but this had the universality that made it feel like it could have been made any time since the Sixties. It wasn’t Universal Credit that was causing Kirsty’s problems (though it could have been), but old-fashioned misfortune and blameless naivety.
At the drama’s heart was Kirsty’s beautifully evoked relationship with her daughters, Tilly (Eve Daniels) and Madison (Kiera Flack) and her desire to protect them. Even in the quieter moments it felt heartbreakingly real.
The only character who didn’t entirely convince was Ryan, the loan shark who duped Kirsty into accepting a loan through kindness, then demanded twice as much back. Paul Kaye did very well to make as much of the role as he did, brilliantly juggling fawning concern and explosive menace – but the character felt underdeveloped.
Still that did leave room for a note of quiet uplift, or at least of comeuppance, when Kirsty shamed him publicly. Not quite a triumph, given the what it took her to get there. But a portrayal of strength rather than victimhood, nonetheless.
It wasn’t easy to watch, but I Am Kirsty felt true to life. Or to some lives at any rate. Watching it, you couldn’t doubt that too many people in the UK are being similarly exploited every day.