Should the BBC Have Turned a Real Life Crime into a Television Drama? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Should the BBC Have Turned a Real Life Crime into a Television Drama?

TV Critic Abbie Pease reviews the ethics of making real life crime into TV drama

In 2008, the country was stunned by the bizarre and shocking case of Shannon Matthews, whose mother hoaxed the world into believing that her daughter had been kidnapped. At the age of nine, Shannon was drugged and hidden in the basement of her step-uncle’s home, whilst her mother shed crocodile tears on national television. Nine years later, the BBC has decided to turn the story into a television adaptation, a move that Shannon’s grandparents argue is “sick and disgusting.”

The case has called into question the morality of turning real crimes into television dramas; does the BBC have the right to turn the case into a television series? The resurrection of the story will undoubtedly have an impact on both Shannon, who now lives under a different identity , and the Moorside estate, which shall be pulled back into the limelight. Keen to arrive at my own judgement surrounding the controversy of the adaptation, I tuned into the first episode of the The Moorside.

The BBC has decided to turn the story into a television adaptation, a move that Shannon’s grandparents argue is 'sick and disgusting.'

Although at first apprehensive, I was surprised by the delicate way in which the BBC depicted Shannon’s case. By angling the programme towards a focus on the estate, The Moorside reveals a story underpinned by a class divide, in which the people of the community bump heads with the authorities on the topic of hope. By capturing the essence of community spirit that tied together the estate during the search for Shannon, the first episode does the area justice. As argued by The Guardian, through shedding a positive light over the estate, The Moorside seems to represent a finger up to David Cameron, who referred to the area as “a place where decency fights a loosing battle against degradation and despair.” In fighting against this image, the first episode focuses on the effort of the community, who re-opened the community centre during the weeks in which Shannon was missing. In particular, this focus involves a stunning display of Julie Bushby by Sheridan Smith, who valiantly depicts the courage and stamina with which Bushby led the search for Shannon. A friend of the Matthews, Bushby is unaware of the truth surrounding Shannon’s disappearance. As this story line develops, the episode to come will reveal the extent to which the community was shattered by the reality of Shannon’s disappearance.

However, should Shannon and the community of Moorside have had to relive these upsetting moments from their past? The unnerving truth of crime dramas based on real events is that they impact the lives of real people. By looking forward to the next episode, can viewers be deemed disrespectful? Being the same age as Shannon, it is fair to say that from what I previously knew of the series, I found it an unsettling concept, as it turned a horrific crime into something intriguing and enjoyable. Before it aired, the BBC defended the series, claiming that it would not directly show the horrors that Shannon had to endure. Some saw this as an attempt to tiptoe around the topic, which could have been avoided altogether. Prior to watching the series I was on board with such an opinion. Despite this, having watched episode one, my view has changed. By praising the efforts of the community involved, the BBC has turned the series into something with positive connotations for those living in Dewsbury. The BBC has so far done the community and the story justice, validating their choice to turn the crime into a drama.

History and Politics student, TV editor


26th February 2017 at 12:38 pm

Images from

The Telegraph