DARK MONEY. (2019) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

DARK MONEY. (2019) DIRECTED BY LEWIS ARNOLD. WRITTEN BY LEVI DAVID ADDAI.
STARRING JILL HALFPENNY, BABOU CEESAY, OLIVE GRAY AND MAX FINCHAM.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This four-part drama mini-series made for perfect viewing for a sort of ‘meh’ Sunday afternoon. It’s very topical and on trend, what with the #metoo movement and the whole thing of people in positions of power being called out on their sexual abuse of the people who work with them or below them.

Most recently, we’ve had Prince Andrew shelling out a hefty whack of dosh to Virginia Giuffre Roberts, the woman who was procured for him by paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and with whom he had sex when she was still underage. Super-rich socialite and Daddy’s Girl Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of being Epstein’s accomplice, also in recent times.

Then, way back before that, there was Jimmy Savile, who was unfortunately dead by the time the worst stories about him were released and so he was never really called to account for his appalling behaviour. I wonder if monies from his estate were ever donated to his victims or to charities supporting victims of sexual abuse…? That’s a job for Wikipedia, lol.

Anyway, way back before that, of course, a certain musical moon-walking superstar settled a fair-sized sum of money on the family of a boy whom he’d been accused of sexually abusing, and that’s a great segueway into DARK MONEY, a Netflix Limited Series about this exact topic.

The Mensah family are a perfectly ordinary, mixed-race British family living, with the usual financial struggles, in council accommodation. Manny is the big burly dad, Sam the devoted mum, and their kids, Jess the college student and Isaac, the little acting phenomenon who has just returned from a three-month stint in Hollywood filming the latest blockbuster movie, VALIANT & SON, with real bonafide Hollywood movie stars.

Everyone Isaac knows, including his wanna-be actress sister Jess, is green with envy at Isaac’s wonderful opportunity and success. The papers are full of it. Local Boy Makes Good, and that type of thing. He’s a celebrity at school and in the local area. So why isn’t Isaac deliriously happy with himself? The answer is contained within a recording on his iPhone…

Time to put things in a nutshell. Isaac has been sexually abused no fewer than three times by Jotham Starr, the bigshot producer of the blockbuster movie. The Mensah family- to be precise, the dad, Manny- accepts a payment of three million dollars from Starr’s lawyers to keep quiet about it.

It’s not an admission of guilt, the lawyers are quick to point out. It’s just that Jotham doesn’t want negative publicity impacting the film and ruining everyone’s hard work. Oh. Well. That’s all right then, I suppose. The money changes hands. The die is cast…

The series then moves on to a year later, where we see the Mensah family living in a fantastic private house with a magnificent garden and in-house swimming pool and gym, but they’re not happy. You might even say that Jotham Starr’s money has only made things worse. What gives? We are shown then how each family member has coped, or not coped, with the abuse of Isaac and with dad Taking the Money…

What it all boils down to is this. Was dad right to take the money? Or should he have punched Jotham Starr’s lights out for laying a hand on his precious son? Should he have tried to have the fancy pants movie producer prosecuted, which, remember, would have to take place in America, as the British police have no jurisdiction over a bloke who lives in the United States?

Should dad have gone to the newspapers and exposed Starr for the sleazy abuser that he is? Or should he just have taken the money, as he did do, and used it to better his family’s lives? There’s some notion going around that there’s something wrong, something dirty, about taking the money, as if it’ll make you look like a common gold-digger, as if taking the money won’t help get justice for the abused child.

Well, what if instead it helped the child to have a better life? And why shouldn’t an abuser pay financially for what they’ve done? It’s a form of retribution, isn’t it? The Magdalene Laundry Survivors here in Ireland deserve all the financial compensation they can claw out of the system that for decades allowed them to be treated like less than dirt.

I’m glad for Virginia Roberts that Prince Andrew was obliged to pay her such a life-changing sum of money. I hope it really changes her life for the better. The only downside is that it was probably the Queen’s cash that was paid out in the settlement, and not Andrew’s own pocket money, which means that he probably won’t have learned anything from the experience, worse luck.

To be honest, I think I’d take the money if it were my child, God forbid, who’d been in little Isaac Mensah’s place. If I couldn’t uproot my family and go chasing a come-uppance in America for some guy who’d probably wriggle out of it anyway because he’s Hollywood royalty and loaded to boot, then I’d just take the goddamn money and use it to try to improve my child’s life and chances for the future.

That’s the issue, anyway, that the Mensah family are struggling with in this excellent domestic drama. I love Manny’s ‘second’ family, his son Tyrone and Tyrone’s feisty mum, Sabrina, who shows more warmth and affection towards Manny than his actual wife, Sam, who draws farther and farther away from her bewildered husband the more stuff happens. The two, Manny and Sam, are the world’s worst communicators, which doesn’t help matters.  

I love Jill Halfpenny as the wife, Sam. You’ll already know her from soaps, CORONATION STREET and EASTENDERS, but she recently turned up in excellent Netflix drama LIAR as well, as the Afghanistan veteran and wife to a detective in a same sex, mixed race couple.

I must say that television dramas are becoming so inclusive lately of same sex and mixed race couples and people of all genders and ethnicities that it would gladden your heart to see it. Sure, they probably go out of their way at times and end up being a little too politically correct, but surely that’s better than not making any effort at all. Isn’t it?

There’s an interesting point raised in the drama as well about ‘chaperones,’ the people who are paid to look after your child when he or she toddles off to Hollywood to star in the latest blockbuster movie featuring giant ray guns and CGI aliens.

If a child is abused on, or off, set, to what extent is the chaperone culpable? Have they failed in their job? Should they be relieved of their duties? Good question, one that I must admit has never come up for me, but worth a wee ponder, nonetheless. Great drama, this one. Well worth your time.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

IT’S A SIN. (2021) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

IT’S A SIN. (2021) A FIVE-PART DRAMA MINISERIES WRITTEN AND CREATED BY RUSSELL T. DAVIES.
STARRING OLLY ALEXANDER, LYDIA WEST, OMARI DOUGLAS, CALLUM SCOTT HOWELLS, KEELEY HAWES, SHAUN DOOLEY, STEPHEN FRY AND TRACEY ANN OBERMAN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Wow. I binge-watched this drama series in one night on Netflix, as it was so good there was no question of my leaving any of it unwatched till the following night. It’s the story of a group of young people, four or five gay men and a woman, sharing a house and a life in London from 1981 to 1991.

It’s the era that encompasses the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in Britain, and the series shows us how the five young people are affected by the epidemic and how they cope with it when it affects them, either directly or indirectly, either personally or through a friend.

Olly Alexander from the band Years and Years plays Ritchie Tozer, who leaves his painfully traditional upbringing on the Isle of Wight behind him to be a flamboyant, fun-loving and optimistic drama student in London.

His friend and housemate, Roscoe Babatunde, is a black man who works in a bar, having narrowly missed out on being forcibly dragged back to Nigeria by his male relatives to have the ‘gayness’ exorcised- or excised- from his body. Just how they were planning to do that, well, we don’t know, but his sister reckons it might have involved a small bit of Death…

Ash Mukherjee is a handsome young Indian man whom all the lads love. Jill Baxter, the only woman in the group, is kind, fiercely and steadfastly loyal and compassionate and kind of acts like a mother to the group of lads. Her particular best friend is Ritchie, and Ash also favours the popular Ritchie, but as a boyfriend.

Colin Morris-Jones is a young Welsh laddie who comes to the metropolis to seek work and finds it in a posh gentlemen’s outfitters. Gregory Finch, a Scottish bus conductor, is sort of on the periphery of the group, and floats in and out of it when he has the time.

I’m not going to spoil this excellent drama series for you, but I can tell you that at least two of the people in this solid little group of BFF’s will go on to contract the ‘plague,’ as it was also known at the time. By their reactions shall ye know them…

This was the era when a lot of information was coming out of the United States about the so-called ‘gay cancer’ that was decimating the gay communities of America from the early ‘Eighties. Gay cancer, the plague, ‘that’ disease, the one that made your parents disown you and your employer give you the elbow.

First it seems like a disease that infects gay males only. But then the haemophiliacs, drug addicts and those who receive contaminated blood by means of a transfusion become apparent victims too. When it turns out that heterosexual people can get HIV also, and that mothers can pass it on to their babies in utero, AIDS is suddenly a horrible disease that pretty much anyone can catch.

Information, and mis-information, filters over to the UK from the USA. Ritchie, our charismatic drama student, who hasn’t come out yet to his parents and family, practises what can only be described as a promiscuous lifestyle with multiple sex partners and little or no protection being used.

There’s no such thing as AIDS, Ritchie insists to his friends. It’s all a ploy by the drug manufacturers to sell their pills and things to the gay population of the world. He’s an AIDS denier, who doesn’t like using condoms because they reduce the sensations he feels during sex.

Let’s just all keep partying, urges Ritchie, and use poppers to increase stimulation and booze it up till we puke, because life is short and we need to fit in so much living before we check out. Oh, the irony, the tragic irony of it all…!

It all happens quite gradually. A friend falls ill and needs hospitalising. Another friend gets hauled permanently home by his mother when he gets a mysterious sickness. Someone suddenly gets unexplained purple splotches on their body or face, another someone gets a cough they can’t quite shake off.

Words like Kaposi’s Sarcoma, pneumocystis, dementia and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy are introduced into interested parties’ day to day vocabulary.

Suddenly there’s a proliferation of funerals, all young gay men, and sometimes the dead man’s family won’t let the dead man’s lover or even his gay friends come anywhere near the funeral, because they and the ‘gayness’ are what caused this person to die in the first place.

Misinformation abounds, such as, drinking battery acid cures you of your AIDS(!!!). There’s a lot of scare-mongering about too, like, oh, you can get AIDS from simply touching an infected person, or, AIDS victims are bad people and they brought this terrible judgement down upon themselves by behaving so promiscuously.

People are going for AIDS tests under assumed names and men are scared to death that their employers, families or even landlords will find out about their HIV status and give them the push.

Victims of the disease feel fear, paranoia, isolation and rejection and sometimes even experience poverty and homelessness as well. The aura of shame surrounding the whole epidemic is nearly touchable.

There’s a horrible stigma attached to being diagnosed as HIV positive or with full-blown AIDS. The actors, in particular Olly Alexander, do a superb job of communicating their sheer terror and feelings of marginalisation and stigmatisation once the threat of AIDS becomes more than just a mere threat.

Stephen Fry has a small but memorable role as a closeted Tory MP who, in his own words, ‘likes to stick his face in the shit every now and then.’ What a dirty boy. Nanny will have to spank him, clearly. Tracey Ann Oberman, who played Chrissie Watts in EASTENDERS back in the day, turns up briefly also as Ritchie’s acting agent.

Keeley Hawes is brilliant as Ritchie Tozer’s sexually repressed mother who has tremendous difficulty acknowledging that her son is gay, has AIDS and is now dying. Stunned parents often had to learn those three facts all at once, which, in fairness, is a lot to take in.

Ruth Sheen, an actress I think I’ve seen before but I’m not sure, only has a small part in the drama, as another AIDS mum, but her words to Mrs. Tozer in the kitchen of the hospital’s AIDS unit are magnificently delivered. Shaun Dooley as Ritchie’s dad, with his casual everyday racism and homophobia, tells a dying Ritchie that ‘he’ll scour the AIDS out of him.’ It’s powerful, frightening stuff.

The ‘Eighties soundtrack is terrific. Took me right back, did that. Also, it was good to observe the progress of the deadly epidemic from a British point of view, as the AIDS films I’ve seen to date have been mostly American.

This drama series is moving, beautifully acted and super-powerful, and should be seen by pretty much everyone over eighteen. Given that thirty seven million people worldwide are currently living with HIV, the message is as valid and urgent today as it was then.

 AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv