Stolen: Damian Lewis investigates the UK’s secret slave trade
Olly Grant reports on a gripping thriller based on the real-life child slaves still being smuggled into Britain.
Ultimately, every fictional drama gets its inspiration from something real. In the case of BBC One’s new thriller, Stolen, it was a 60-second radio bulletin, way back in 2003. “I was listening to the news on 5 Live,” explains writer Stephen Butchard, “and they had a report about an African child who had been trafficked into the country to work as a domestic slave.”
It made him do a double-take. “I thought, ‘Surely that can’t be happening in this country?’” he recalls. “But they said it wasn’t a one-off; it happens again and again. So I fired off an email to the BBC drama department…”
Eight years on, the result of Butchard’s email is about to make it to the screen. Stolen, starring Damian Lewis, takes the idea behind that report and spins it into a multi-stranded thriller about the scandal of modern-day slavery.
Thematically, it’s treading similar ground to Channel 4’s Bafta-nominated 2010 drama, I Am Slave. Yet Stolen broadens the canvas by following three children in very different forms of British-based slavery – an African girl and two boys from Vietnam and Ukraine – with Lewis as an anti-trafficking detective and a kind of lynchpin character, drawing their stories together.
“I always wanted it to be from a child’s perspective,” says Butchard, who has a track record with real-life dramas seen through the victims’ eyes; he wrote 2010’s harrowing Five Daughters about the Ipswich serial killings. Each child’s journey, he adds, is closely based on his years of research into real trafficking cases: “They’re fictitious stories, but the kernels are true.”
So in the opening scenes we meet Rosemary, an African girl who has just landed at a British airport. On arrival, she follows the instructions from her “buyers”, flushing her passport away so that she is effectively untraceable. From that point on, the gang has the upper hand, explains Lewis.
The actor prepared for his role by shadowing a real-life human trafficking unit in London. If there are reasonable grounds to suspect trafficking, “the child will find some measure of safety within a government house,” he explains. “If not, they go to private carers.”
Read the rest of the article at the Telegraph