A Gripping Thriller Based on the Real-Life Child Slaves Still Being Smuggled into Britain
by Olly Grant | The Telegraph | June 30, 2011
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.”
The child – in this case Rosemary – tries to escape from her carers so that she can contact the gang on a memorised number (they plan to make her a house servant, with a view to selling her on as a sex worker when she is older). The whole process is oiled by fear, says Lewis. “It’s especially hard with these African girls because they will have had ‘juju’ rituals performed on them [before the trip], to make them believe they’ll die if they don’t follow orders,” he says. “These are girls who have had blood taken from them, mixed with hair cuttings and nail clippings. They’re then doused in it, and a ceremony is performed by a priest.
“And they live in fear. One fact I learned was that it can take two years to break down even an adult, to re-educate her against the juju. So it’s a very complicated psychological problem and it relies on the police being able to elicit trust so they can get to the truth.”
This is all brave but heavy material for a ratings-hungry channel like BBC One – which is why it took so long to green-light, Butchard admits. When Stolen did get the go-ahead, the challenge was to make it the sort of punchy, heart-tugging drama that fits the BBC One brief.
Read the rest of the article at the Telegraph