Stolen Review: Powerful Drama Ruined By Happy Ending?

STOLEN: Sunday 3rd July, BBC1, 9pm

So you settle down to enjoy some light-hearted television (possibly with some bonnets and period drama bluster..) on a Sunday night and you end up being slapped in the face by this 90 minute child trafficking drama.

It hardly sounded like the most appealing piece of entertainment when we clocked it in the schedule and unsurprisingly, it’s not. But it is an exceptionally powerful piece of television that handles a difficult subject with poise and relentless grit. These are simple tales, told with striking cinematography and with this run-time, Stolen sometimes feels like a blend of documentary, drama and film. One thing is for certain, this is a story brimming with sadness.

Yet for all it’s relevance, class and poignancy, you can’t help but feel that writer Stephen Butchard lets the whole concept down by giving us a partially happy-ending. The power of this piece is in the hopelessness of it and that is slightly extinguished by a rather unrealistic and contrived conclusion which sees a Nigerian kid starting at a British school after identifying the beastly trafficker in a police line-up. If only..

Yet despite this, there’s still plenty to get depressed about here. Damian Lewis leads as Carter, the straight-forward Immigration Police Officer who is responsible for collaring the traffickers – or ‘slavers’ as he justifiably calls them. He deals with a couple of kids, but the first and most important one is Rosemary, a young girl who arrives from Lagos and destroys her passport and ticket at the airport terminal. For Carter and that girl from This Is England, she is the only link to the snakehead who makes money out of human beings. But with the threats of the traffickers ringing probably still ringing in her ears, the young girl is less talkative than Kevin Smith. With the system at bursting point, finding Rosemary a place to stay is also tricky and before long the trafficking piggies are knocking on the door.

Africa is often thought of as the poorest continent, but the BBC illustrates how widespread the child trafficking problem is by giving us a nice geographical mix of slave kids to choose from. All the main continents are covered and we meet a lad from Viet Nam who is forced to work at a cannabis farm (it’s like criminal gluttony!) and George, a lad(?) from Eastern Europe. George is definitely the most heart-breaking of the three, as unlike the others, he arrives in Britain full of hope and expectation. After working in some sort of dodgy drinking den-cum-factory for a couple of weeks without pay, he storms out before cursing the ‘rich’ people he meets on the streets. “I just want to be like you!” he screams as the Mancunian kids run past. In the one overly-sensational and absurd part of the drama he is randomly stabbed in the stomach by some passing urchin. Really?