Michaela Coel's 'I May Destroy you' is a must-watch, here's why

Megan Sutton
Photo credit: BBC

From Good Housekeeping

This article discusses sexual assault in a way some readers may find upsetting or triggering.

Michaela Coel is no stranger to creating and starring in hit series and her new 12-part drama I May Destroy You which made its BBC One debut on Monday (8 June) has been widely reviewed as an absolute must-watch.

The series explores consent as it tells the story of Arabella (played by Coel), a woman who is sexually assaulted after having her drink spiked on a night out. It was created, written and co-directed by Coel, who has previously opened up about her own personal experience of sexual assault.

Photo credit: BBC

"I May Destroy You centres on Arabella, a care-free, self-assured Londoner with a group of great friends, a holiday fling-turned aspirational boyfriend in Italy, and a burgeoning writing career. But when she is spiked with a date-rape drug, she must question and rebuild every element of her life," the BBC said of the series.

"Feted as the ‘voice of her generation’, Arabella is highly talented. But, distracted by the pressures of her first triumph, she is struggling to write her second novel and is in danger of becoming destructive and self-absorbed. After being sexually assaulted in a nightclub, her life changes irreversibly and Arabella is forced to reassess everything: her career, her friends, even her family.

"As she struggles to come to terms with what has happened, she begins a journey of self-discovery. Often painful, sometimes funny, it leads her to some surprising places - and controversial conclusions."

Photo credit: BBC

Speaking about her character, Coel said:

"Arabella is Londoner, a lover of life and a lover of Twitter. After a spontaneous piece of writing of hers goes viral on the internet she receives a commission to write a book. She’s now got an agent, and there’s a sudden professional demand for her writing. Beyond her work she lives in a two-bed flat-share in Hackney and has a cool group of friends, also trying to find themselves within this little concrete jungle."

On the subject of the character's journey over the 12 episodes, Coel added:

"Arabella must understand that everything is connected, that she is connected even to the thing she despises the most: her trauma. Across the 12 episodes she learns that allowing herself to disassociate from what she struggles to accept can have unsavoury consequences."

TV critics have widely praised the series, with many giving glowing four and five star reviews.

Metro's Cydney Yeates gave the show four-and-a-half stars, saying Coel "manages to capture the fraught anxiety of Arabella's circumstance."

"She also succeeded in making Arabella a deeply flawed character who we want to shake in one moment, but protect her by all means necessary in the next," she added.

Given that Black and women story tellers are too often excluded from sharing their experiences in the mainstream and under-represented on TV, I May Destroy You is an important example of the brilliant, thought-provoking work that is created when Black women are given the space to speak their truths.

Joining Coel in the series, Weruche Opia plays Terry, Arabella's funny but less successful best friend. Her acting career has stalled, her love life is erratic and fairly disastrous. But she's always sure that something brilliant is about to happen.

Paapa Essiedu plays Kwame, the best male friend of Arabella and Terry. A sometime dancer who now teaches gym class, he's a beautiful gay man with serious self-esteem issues when it comes to getting what he wants in sex and love.

Aml Ameen plays Simon, who is Arabella’s party friend - loads of fun and a bad influence. Although he manages to hold down a job in the City, he likes nothing better than to lure Arabella away from her work for a big night out mid-week.

Photo credit: BBC

The series also explores Arabella's relationship with her literary agent, Julian (Adam James) and Theodora (Harriet Webb), who runs a rape survivors’ group that Arabella attends.

When asked what she's most enjoyed about working on the series, Coel said:

"Everything. Every moment, from thinking to writing to shooting to editing to rewriting, this has been the most satisfying experience of my entire life."

When it comes to what she hopes audiences will take away from her new show, she's leaving that to them to decide.

"I hope they take away something that is quite hard to put into words," she said.

I May Destroy You airs on Monday nights on BBC One. You can catch up with the first two episodes of the series on iPlayer.

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