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September 02, 2008

Richard D. North asks, would any other mother in her position have reacted as Fiona did in her story? Fiona's Story on BBC1

Posted by Richard D. North

Fiona's Story
Directed by Adrian Shergold
BBC1, 31st August 2008

You'll know the story if you watched the show or read the many rather weird reviews of this dotty drama by Kate Gabriel (Serana Davies sailed past everything that mattered in the Daily Telegraph, for instance.)

A middle class mother of three girls is in a sexless marriage with their nice but uptight father. All she wants is love and good straight sex and plenty of it. So far, so English, we'll say. The police collar Simon for downloading violent child porn and after a bit he admits to it, but only to Fiona. The evidence trail seems to peter out, so he escapes the law. When social services come knocking, Fiona saves Simon's bacon, her family and her house by lying manfully about what a riot he's been in bed.

The directing and all the acting is very good, but the whole edifice is creaky. It never really seems to occur to Fiona that Simon might be a bit of a risk to her three girls. Quite early on, when she's full of shock about new revelations about his behaviour, she leaves him alone with the girls whilst she slips off to a man she fancies.

When Simon finally leaves home (presumably still shelling out for the lifestyle) she's not that bothered that the girls go and stay with him or even that he then also invites the girls' friends around to his bachelor pad (admittedly it is soon intermittently shared by a new compliant girlfriend). Never mind whether in real life the daughters' friends' mums would have been up for such sleep-overs anyway.

Fiona does raise a bit of an eyebrow when she hears stuff about his bath-times and bed-sharing with his girls, but seems to err greatly on the side of complacency about that too.

There's more. At least one of Fiona's relations finally rumbles what's going on and points out that whatever risks Fiona might choose to take on her girls' behalf, there is no way she ought to put her friends' children in harm's way. This astute and ordinarily jumpy woman tells Fiona that this isn't Fiona's secret to keep. Fiona doesn't at first respond to this thought very much. But then the relation doesn't shop Simon, as she might and probably would have. When Fiona finally says she'll shop Simon, he responds that they're off the social services' radar by now but adds that social services might take the children away from her, all of which seems deeply unlikely on nearly every score.

Anyway, from start to finish, Fiona never seems to care about Simon's possible behaviour with real little girls, and never bothers to play her very strong hand in negotiating with him some pretty strict limits. Doing so would have saved her young from risk and her way of life from meltdown by official involvement. I know Simon's a strong character and manipulative, Fiona wrecks the drama by being a quite intelligent but deeply dozy bird.

It's no good saying, as Andrew Billen does in The Times, that the drama is a sharp shock to those who say that looking at images isn't the same as perpetrating the abuse that leads to them. One can readily think both are crimes, whilst believing that they are crimes of importantly different orders.

Likewise, one can assert that looking at violent porn doesn't at all mean that a man would perpetrate the acts portrayed. The point that arises from Fiona's Story is that the show completely missed the extreme nervousness that Fiona ought to have felt on behalf of the children who come into intimate, private contact with a man with these tastes. Nearly every other mother on the planet would have.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence and Scrap the BBC!: Ten Years to Set Broadcasters Free.

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