Why BBC Three's 'Murdered For Being Different' Is Uncomfortable But Very Necessary Viewing
The Debrief: Director Paul Andrew Williams, who also directed Murdered By My Boyfriend, tells us why Sophie and Rob's was a story worth telling
It's been ten years 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were attacked by a group of kids they didn't know while they were walking through a park in Lancashire. If you were a bit too young to properly remember or understand what was happening in the news, Sophie's subsequent death really shook the country and was spoken about for a really long time afterwards. Quite frankly, it was brutal and deeply upsetting.
She was reportedly targeted 'because she was dressed as a Goth' and to mark the anniversary of her death, BBC Three have created Murdered For Being Different, another one-off factual drama that, following in the footsteps of their previous dramas Murdered By My Boyfriend and Murdered By My Father, will probably stick with you for quite a while after you've watched it.
It takes you back two years before the attack and tells the story of Sophie and Rob's relationship, which is beautifully heartwarming and only makes the incident that cost Sophie her life and left Rob in a coma even more devastating than it already is.
As difficult as it can be to take in, their story isn't uncommon. There was a wave of similar crimes that happened at around the same time in 2007 and I'm sure we're all aware that 'hate crime' is a phrase that has depressingly been part of our day-to-day vocabulary over recent years. But Sophie and Rob's is such an important story. We spoke to the film's director Paul Andrew Williams about why it's so important, what it says about our society these days, and the key point to take away from it all.
What was it about Sophie and Rob’s story that interested you?
It’s the fact that it’s about real people. It’s about a crime that was pretty well publicised after the event so I was aware of it and, for me, I think showing how these sorts of events occur, however subtly, is something that I really like to do. Also, the idea of bringing this to people’s attention because a lot of people already know about it but also lots don’t and for them to see what happened, see how it builds ups and what happened afterwards, for me that was a story worth telling.
And what actually goes into bringing a story like this to life?
I know that the researchers, like all the other programmes in this series, they’ve been really well researched, the families are then completely on board. I sort of joined when there was a script, and at that point, there’s obviously been a massive amount of research and then from there it’s just trying to make sure that the drama itself is faithful to the true events but also interesting enough for people to want to engage with it. That’s always the challenge.
What’s great about it though is that these really difficult but important stories are being told. Didn’t you direct Murdered By My Boyfriend as well?
I don’t know why, I know it sounds a bit macabre that I only seem to be going after murder jobs… but I think I’m just really interested in stories about real people and to sort of tackle the darker side of individuals and without trying to make big judgements on these people – that for me is what I enjoy about making programmes.
Another important and striking thing about the series though is particularly the age group that’s focused on. It’s young adults who are going through these things that seem so far away from what many of us at that age are lucky enough to experience.
I mean, yes. I think that in growing up, we all have our own particular journeys. What I like is basically looking at real life and how it’s affected when something major occurs - whether it’s good or bad. But obviously, my jobs in this particular series were all about the bad stuff. I think that I like to look at the idea that we as human beings are very normal, but normal situations can then escalate into something that’s insane without it ever [being presented in a way that] seems too mad or too crazy.
Because the attack on Sophie was so horrific, I was like ‘how do we do this realistically’? The best thing for me would be to try film it in an accurate way. Unfortunately, that just means you make something that’s pretty horrendous, and pretty horrible.
It really presents these awful situations as far closer to home that we’d otherwise care to realise. It says a lot about society and our fascination with documentary and true stories.
Documentaries have definitely taken off. I personally watch a lot of documentaries now, often more so than fiction because it’s really dramatic when it works. Whereas this isn’t really a documentary, it’s a drama, and we’ve made something that will hopefully work on that level. There are a few scenes that we’ve tried to be imaginative with and make sort of surreal based on Robert and Sophie’s relationship. So, it’s not necessarily all, ‘this is real life’, we’ve tried to express more stuff in the actual show. But yes, I do believe people are very interested and focusing more on true life dramas.
Do you think it reflects on society at the moment? It might feel timely because sadly these sorts of crimes aren’t going anyway which perhaps makes the programme even more poignant.
Obviously, there are terrible things going on quite often now. The only thing that I think is similar with regards to the case of Sophie is just that human nature can lead people to terrible things but also it can lead them to very, very good things. Hence why people went forward and the murders, in this case, went to jail. Yes, there’s bad shit going on the world, but I still have a bit of faith that there are good people here.
This case probably hits us all in a way that we can relate to on some level. We probably have really fond memories of being in our twenties. We’ve been in love. Some of us vaguely know how it feels to be treated differently because we’re ‘different’. So, for all of that to come together at once to such a tragic end is pretty heartbreaking to watch.
I think that the only thing that makes us misjudge people who are different, who look different is because we are afraid and I think that as kids we’ve all been insecure. We all find the stuff that we don’t really know and don’t really understand and sometimes it’s just a lot easier to act aggressively. We’ve definitely lost a bit of empathy in terms of certain youngsters and the conversations into why that has happened, well, I have no idea.
What's the one thing you hope people will take away from Murdered For Being Different?
Be nice. Be nice to each other. I think it's kind of true that that would solve a lot of things – if we were just a bit nicer to people. If people watch it take something from it though, I’ll be happy.
Murdered For Being Different is available on BBC iPlayer now
Image courtesy of BBC
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