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Blog - Colin Hambrook

Silent Witness: history in the making


Clarissa Mullery [LIZ CARR] ©) BBC – Photographer: Sally Mais

Silent Witness makes television history this coming Monday on BBC 1 at 9pm. Liz Carr’s character Clarissa Mullery steps up to the mark and becomes the focus of the interweaving storylines that are the hallmark of the drama series about a team of forensic pathologists.

One Day – the title of two-parter to be aired next Monday and Tuesday – focuses on disability. Without, hopefully giving too much away, the storyline covers abuse, care homes, euthanasia and subtle and not so subtle forms of disability discrimination. As Liz said in a Q&A after a BAFTA screening yesterday, “although One Day is billed as being about disability hate crime, it is really much more about the value of human life.”

With fantastic performances from a supporting cast, which includes disabled actors Rosie Jones (Serena) and Toby Sams-Friedman (Kevin) this isn’t about doing disability as a tick-box exercise. These episodes go deeper in conveying why it is that we bang on about societies attitudes towards disabled people. It gets beneath the skin of entrenched disability discrimination in a way I don’t think has ever been done in a popular television drama that regularly reaches 8 million viewers.

It addresses the kind of discrimination that we saw recently in Philip Hammond’s implied statement that the current state of the UK’s economy was the fault of disabled people – and the governments efforts to get us into work – as if monetary value is the only measure of our value as people.

After six years in the show Liz Carr’s character is finally given breathing space to become the lead in a plot-line that engages with much more of Clarissa’s backstory. We find out about her relationship with her mum [Sanchia McCormack] and get to know some deeper truths about the character. Fear of abandonment is a strong theme – something I certainly relate to as a disabled person and which I’m sure is common amongst the disability community – as wide-ranging and different as our experiences are.

Clarissa Mullery [LIZ CARR] ©) BBC – Photographer: Sally Mais

And it’s great to see Liz Carr come of age as a televison actress, given a fine script [written by Tim Prager] and a chance to shine in front of the camera and to show just how talented she is. We see her character Clarissa much more fully developed with all the strength, humanity, integrity and vulnerability that has been hinted at over the last six years since the actress first joined the show.

We’ve often seen snippets of humour and candour between Jack and Clarissa, but this is the first time we see the relationship between the two characters flower in a meaningful way with a display of tender, if professional concern.

There are some classic and very wittily displayed plays with disableist language from the character of Police Sergeant Mark Button [Tom Hanson]. The writing and the acting are superb and it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the presenting a disability perspective.

However both Tim Prager and Producer Richard Stokes who were part of the panel discussion at the end of the screening insisted the story was easy to write and easy to cast. The argument that it’s ‘difficult to find professional disabled actors’ came across as irrelevant urging that “the will to do these kinds of stories is down to the corporate will to engage” and the individuals in positions of power.

So let’s hope – as indeed we have hoped many times over the last 40 years of engaging with this battle for representation – that this is the beginning of a sea-change. Prager for one, pledged that every script for Silent Witness that he pitches to the program, will write an extra disabled character, played by a disabled actor within it.

Go to the BBC’s Silent Witness webpages for more information

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Richard Downes
3 years ago

OOh!!! Having read this i just migh return to viewing silent witness for the first time since who knows when

Mar CL
Mar CL
3 years ago

Thank you. Make our community visible!

Julie Wilcockson
Julie Wilcockson
3 years ago

My heart cracked at the attitudes towards and abuse of vulnerable adults. Sadly this is a reflection of the way people with learning disabilities have been treated in real life. I hope you are able to bring some light and hope to the story or else I think my heart will completely break.

gill james
gill james
3 years ago

Thank you for making this – it must have a positive effect . . . must raise awareness – though having read some of the reactions on the BBC one facebook page I could see that it ruffled some feathers, and caused many to deny the reality of the issues portrayed. . . too hard for them to face I guess. I suspect that it would have cause some pain in old wounds – bruises that don’t heal too easily too. . . tragically there are people for whom this kind of abuse, cruelty , incarceration and patronising attitude is… Read more »

Julia Ratsey-woodroffe
Julia Ratsey-woodroffe
3 years ago

Fantastic acting from Rosie and Toby really admired there realistic portrails… BAFTAS for these 2

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