This review originally appeared on The Arts Desk.
The BBC might have convinced itself that the only thing that will change in the way it caters to the youth market next autumn is the method of delivery, but Murdered By My Boyfriend makes the case for retaining BBC Three as a channel that can be idly flipped onto on a Monday night. Previews of the short drama, inspired by real-life events, were full of the usual cliches: the story that writer Regina Moriarty told was both “tragic” and “depressingly familiar”. But the fact remains that young women between the ages of 16 and 24 are statistically most at risk of being abused by a partner; and whether because the victims don’t recognise what is happening to them until it is too late, or because they have no idea where to turn, there doesn’t seem to a be a thing that anybody can do about it.
The choice to open with Ashley (Georgina Campbell), Moriarty’s version of the real woman whose story was told in the drama, shrouded in feathers from a burst pillow was an interesting one, immediately calling to mind more innocent images than that of what many don’t know is the typical victim of domestic violence. Given the title, it’s no spoiler to say that this scene had far less innocent roots, before the story jumped backwards four years to the night on which Ashley met the man that this version of the story calls Reece (Royce Pierreson, below, with Campbell). At first, Reece appears to be everything that the 17-year-old Ashley wants in a man: he’s handsome, ambitious, attentive, generous and charming. But it’s not long before a volatile, insecure personality begins to show.
Cleverly scripted, Murdered By My Boyfriend effectively captured a pattern of emotional and physical abuse while answering the question, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” What started out with seemingly innocent monitoring of text messages quickly escalated to the first violent incident – Reece throwing Ashley against a wall shortly after she discovered that she was pregnant – then the tears and recriminations before the bruises and the little comments which on their own sounded like nothing but which quickly took a psychological toll. Like many women Ashley gets lured back with tears and apologies, by Reece’s gentle nature when not in the midst of one of his violent outbursts and by how good he is with the couple’s young daughter. But eventually, her partner’s controlling nature drives a wedge between Ashley and the support networks of her friends and family, and ultimately costs her her life.
Something that the film captured extremely well was the ease with which technology can be used as a means of abuse that is easily kept hidden from the loved ones of the victim. Reece treated Ashley to the latest smartphone as a gift but then demanded constant photos from her to prove where she is and who she is with; he constantly logged into her Facebook account to check for messages from other men and monitor the photographs of hen parties and other nights out with her friends. Although Ashley came close to walking away, Campbell’s subtle portrayal of a woman gradually robbed of her strength and self-esteem made the drama’s tragic climax seem inevitable.
If Murdered By My Boyfriend helps to convince one young woman to seek help, it’s a job well done. Here’s hoping there will still be a place for this sort of storytelling on TV this time next year.