Producing a factual drama is always a complex task. A writer may feel indebted to the reality, and thus reluctant to stray from the truth. Others may adapt, or alter the truth in pursuit of drama and narrative engagement, risking alienating the audience (particularly those familiar with the case). Often, the factual dramas that have been best received are those that intentionally adopt an alternative perspective. Thus, The Moorside, detailing the Shannon Matthews case, chose to focus on Julie Bushby rather than Karen Matthews, allowing the audience an insight into the case, without casting aspersions.
Since moving to online only, BBC Three has focused on generating creative, socially important output. Murdered for Being Different appears to form part of an unofficial triptych which includes the critically acclaimed Murdered by My Boyfriend, and Murdered by My Father.
Murdered for Being Different details the well-known case of Sophie Lancaster. Sophie, and her boyfriend of three years Rob, were brutally attacked in a park in Lancashire by a group of teenagers ten years ago. The media largely focused on promoting Sophie and Rob’s ‘otherness’, highlighting their participation in alternative culture and their Goth appearance. Rob, the only survivor of the attack, has subsequently decried the media’s focus on their appearance, rightly stating that this focus has implications of victim blaming. As Rob has stated in interviews that were held as part of the BBC three production of the event, Sophie was murdered because ‘some arseholes killed her. What can’t we ask what it is about them that made them want to murder someone?’
Dealing with such an event, one which received much media attention, and has had considerable ramifications on both society and those affected, can be problematic. Creator Nick Leather combats this by inviting the direct involvement of Rob. While Rob remembers little of the attack, such were the extent of his injuries, he does remember his relationship with Sophie. These memories, presented as idyllic and almost dreamlike, act as a stark contrast to the aggressive violence that both Rob and Sophie suffered. Rob paints wings onto Sophie’s back, turning her into the angel that he perceives her to be. She reads Harry Potter to him after he purchases the last instalment for her at midnight. Rob has trekked through the night after he is left with no bus money after the purchase.
Wisely, the drama does not attempt to create any sense of narrative tension. There is no need when the audience knows the result. Rather, the drama focuses on the futility and senselessness of the violence, and the tender nature of Rob and Sophie’s relationship. Their first meeting, depicted as taking place in a loud music venue in which the pair are forced to communicate via non-verbal gestures, utilises both music and visuals. Rob spots Sophie across a crowd, and the attraction is instant. Her face, flickering in and out of frame in time with the lights, draws both Rob and the audience to her.
While we are only afforded an insight into their relationship, its depiction created in collaboration with Rob, allows for the portrayal of a meaningful connection, ensuring that the pair’s attack (only truly revealed in its horror at the end of the narrative) is all the more brutal.
In depicting Sophie’s death, the drama does not set out to entertain or create drama. Rather it hopes to highlight the crime, and the impact that it had on those around them. Leather succeeds in this aim, resulting in the creation of an affecting piece. A piece that will stay with you long after the credits have ended.