Karishma Upadhyay - 23 weeks ago
British crime dramas have always been more nuanced than the kind of stuff Hollywood churns out, and there’s no better testament to that than Kiri.
(Sarah Lancashire as Miriam in a still from Kiri)
The four-part miniseries revolves around the abduction of a nine-year-old black girl just as she’s about to be adopted by a white upper middle class family. Make no mistake though — this show isn’t just about the crime itself. Following in the footsteps of widely acclaimed British crime shows like Broadchurch, Kiri proves that you don’t need to have guns and violence on display to bring home the enormity of crime and how it affects the people around it.
Writer Jack Thorne, credited for writing the stage version of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and acclaimed television series National Treasure explores multiple layers and themes through three hours of brilliantly crafted television. It’s all there, from modern middle class family dynamics and mother-son relationships to larger themes like the general rot in the social services system and the role of the media. But there’s no bigger motif on the show than what happens in real life when a crime happens — the series of accusations, the hunt for a scapegoat, the loss of trust, the blame game.
The story opens with Miriam (Sarah Lancashire), a Bristolian social worker in charge of the adoption case of a young black girl, Kiri (Felicia Mukasa). Kiri’s family history is a violent one, and her father was sent to prison for assault and dealing drugs. She gets put in foster care with an upper middle class white family who grow fond of her and want to adopt her. Miriam believes that Kiri should be given a chance to understand her African culture better, and arranges for her first unsupervised visit with her birth grandfather, Tobi (Lucian Msamati). Kiri’s father, however, has just been released from prison and what starts out as a well-intentioned visit, turns tragic. The adoptive parents-to-be blame Miriam for negligence and the media picks up the story, turning it into a circus.
The show quickly dispenses with the circumstances surrounding the incident, and focuses on what happens in the aftermath. You see a crime investigation, but through the multiple lenses of the people affected. And all of this with a touch of dark humour, an art that only the British seem to have mastered. It isn’t easy, after all, to bring the occasional smile to one’s face when the subject of what you’re watching is rooted in deep tragedy.
(Finn Bennett and Sarah Lancashire in a still from Kiri)
There’s Miriam herself whose day typically starts with a splash of vodka in her coffee, and her mostly thankless job that belies the fact that she actually loves what she does. You see her regularly dropping off sausages with a drug addict saying, “Remember to cook them this time.” Jessie, her dog travels with her everywhere and is always in a state of happy canine flatulence. In one scene, you see Miriam describing Jessie’s series of conditions as ranging from testicular cancer to gout and depression, but she takes comfort in the fact that he has a lovely coat of fur. It’s these light moments that make this show so damn watchable.
Sarah Lancashire’s performance brings home the nature of being a social worker; a life spent cleaning up the sad circumstances of others. When you’ve seen so much misfortune, it’s almost expected to be flippant about life in general. Those who remember Lancashire from shows like Happy Valley and National Treasure, will not find it hard to imagine her nailing this character with those world-weary eyes and general aura of dishevelment. Like her character in Happy Valley, Lancashire is a middle-aged woman living alone and fending for herself. You see her gruff countenance and cynical humour as an affected armour, but you also get the sense of personal loss which eventually gets a small mention, just enough to complete the portrait of her character.
(Lia Williams and Sarah Lancashire in a still from Kiri)
Lucian Msamati, who most of us remember for his portrayal of Salladhor Saan on Game of Thrones, puts in a powerful performance as Tobi, the child’s birth grandfather. Msamati carefully balances a range of emotions, from being the loving grandparent who just wants to be a part of his grandchild’s life, to the parent who’s long given up on his own child, yet is protective when the circumstances demand it.
You’d think this was a story about a crime; it is and it’s not.
You’d think this was a story about systemic racism in crime enforcement; it is and it’s not.
You’d think this was a story about the limitations of social services in a developed society; it is and it’s not.
And that’s what makes this show stand apart from the regular crime drama. It’s neither a regular case file from the annals of Criminal Minds or Law & Order SVU, nor is it an exhausting treatise on society. The show stays close to the case at hand allowing the viewer to make assumptions based on everything else that is going on with its characters. It will lead you to believe things and make assumptions based on your own worldview, but will sparingly give you the satisfaction of being right. The resolution itself, will have you questioning the point of it all, but isn’t that what real life is all about? Kiri is a highly sensitive story of the times we live in and the hopelessness of a system that eventually bends you to its will.
(Kiri is currently running on myNK)
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