BBC First drama about a young woman who escapes captivity after 13 years is indeed heavy-going.
It’s standard for a TV drama about a person being held in captivity to be a cat and mouse chase about cops pursuing the kidnappers and ending with the hostage released.
But UK drama Thirteen begins from the end: with a 26 year old woman escaping after 13 years in captivity. What follows is a psychological drama in which she re-enters a life she has all but forgotten.
Unquestionably it’s a grim tale and hard to grasp its immediate appeal, but I could finally see where it was going by the very last scenes of the opening episode.
Jodie Comer plays 26 year old Ivy Moxam, who escapes from a Bristol terrace house after years in captivity.
“I was taken 13 years ago, I’ve just escaped. Please help me!” she tells emergency callers.
But when D.S. Lisa Merchant (Valene Kane) and D.I. Elliott Carne (Richard Rankin) interview her they are suspicious: is she faking it?
To help Ivy adjust she is put into the care of a liaison officer. Ivy bears the signs of scratches and bruises, and her fragile behaviour shows a mistrust of almost everyone around her, together with an aversion to any form of affection. With the police trying to uncover both truth and kidnapper, they are faced with the first captive to have ever been released in the UK.
When the phone call comes to mother Christina (Natasha Little), it’s impossible not to see how long-suppressed emotions come flooding back in an instant.
“There’s a girl. It could be Ivy,” she says, after hanging up the phone.
Together with husband Angus (Stuart Graham), both parents are overwhelmed their missing daughter has returned, but younger sister Emma (Katherine Rose Morley) takes a different view.
“She’s not my big sister,” says Emma.
As police begin to unravel the circumstances, there are telltale signs which hint at a more complex story, including the notion that Ivy may have succumbed to ‘Stockholm syndrome’ and formed a relationship with her captors.
Fragile Ivy meanwhile, who becomes the target of a frenzied media, is taking tentative steps to re-assimilate into the home she knew as a child, and with family members who have moved forwards. Writer Marnie Dickens drops hints that much has changed in the ensuing years.
“We just need to give her some time” says Angus.
Ivy also begins to warm to D.I. Elliott Carne who shows more empathy than his partner. But is he being manipulated?
An eleventh hour plot move goes some way to make up for the heavy tone of these downbeat characters, which should quicken the pace in its second episode. Whilst The Missing kept us hooked with a chase, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt goes for the laughs, Thirteen opens with a brooding tone.
With the UK’s fascination with the case of Madeline McCann, I suspect this has limited appeal in Australia, despite the endeavours of its fine ensemble.
Thirteen airs 8:30pm Sunday on BBC First.