11 September 2008 | bob the moo
Engaging and painful drama despite a so-so ending
Fiona lives in suburbia as a housewife to her hard-working (and, it must be said, inattentive) husband Simon and her daughters. Their normal life is disrupted one morning when the police arrive to question Simon and seize his computers under suspicions oh him accessing child pornography. The police build their case and proceed with prosecutions while Fiona frantically tries to hold her family together and deal with her own feelings of betrayal, mistrust and fear.
In a spot normally reserved for comforting, cocooning dramas such as Marple and the like, this film was put out to viewers finishing their weekends. I say this just to make note of it as it did surprise me that such a harrowing film would be in this slot as opposed to midweek (for example) but I have no issues with it at all even if I'm surprised the schedulers made this call. The film doesn't really deal with child pornography as an issue and it doesn't concern itself too much with the machinations of the legal process but, as the title suggests, it tells the story of the family members who suddenly find themselves married to/living with someone who has been looking at images of child abuse. It doesn't sound like a great Sunday night in and nor should it because it is a distressing piece thanks mainly to a great performance from Gina McKee. She dominates the film and is utterly convincing with a strong script that takes her through all sorts of emotions, the vast majority of which feel very real.
With this as the "narrative" it was very important to get this right and the writers do. By taking Fiona on a journey of emotion, the viewer gets taken on one as well and it does make for tough questions; I'm sure there will be some who get frustrated after 10 minutes that Fiona didn't feel a certain way immediately and make a stand (the Radio Times letters page was amusing the next week) but to me this aspect did work and made for engaging television. Morally I think most of us know our view on child pornography and that it probably contains the word "abhorrent" but this is very different to being personally affected by it and not able to stand remote and judge someone without any impact on your situation some viewers have missed that this is what the film is looking at but I don't think that is the film's fault. What IS the film's fault is a rather lacklustre ending which just seems to "stop"; this is partly down to the focus being on Fiona and not the case so while the case has an ending, her story does not, but still I did think that the writers would have done better with the final five minutes.
Equally as good as McKee is Jeremy Northam, and credit to him for doing the role as few "stars" (which is what he is beyond the UK) would risk such an unsympathetic character but he does it well. The children are all natural as well and were well cast, but I'm not sure why Jimi Mistry bothered for such a small role and little screen-time, perhaps there was more on paper than made it into the final cut or maybe he just saw a good film and wanted a part of it. And that is what Fiona's Story is a really well written and acted piece of personal drama where director Shergold keeps us close to the family at all times and never lets us escape into the wider community of the story and thus to a more remote vantage point. While I did find the ending a bit disappointing, otherwise it is gripping and intelligence stuff not cheery by any means but well worth seeing.