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

ARCHIVE 81. (2022) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

ARCHIVE 81. (2022) A NETFLIX HORROR SERIES BASED ON THE PODCAST, ARCHIVE 81, BY DANIEL POWELL AND MARK SOLLINGER.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCED BY REBECCA SONNESHINE, PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN AND JAMES WAN OF SAW, INSIDIOUS AND THE CONJURING FAME.

STARRING MAMOUDOU ATHIE, DINA SHIHABI, EVAN JONIGKEIT, JULIA CHAN, MATT MCGORRY AND MARTIN DONOVAN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Stay away from the sixth floor.’

Wow. I loved this series, binge-watching the eight delicious episodes over two nights this week and being left reeling- in a good way!- by the number of horror films, authors and tropes it manages to lovingly reference.

It’s the story of a young American man living in the present day called Dan Turner. Dan has terrible sadness and trauma in his past, and he is given a job one day out of the blue that might actually help him to unlock the trauma and even put part of it right, after many years. But not without great personal risk to himself and his mental health, I hasten to add, so it’s not all moonlight and roses.

The job is offered to him by one Virgil Davenport, the rich, reclusive billionaire owner of a company called LGM, of which there is very little known in the public domain. The job is to go and stay in LGM’s isolated compound in the Catskills, completely on his own, for as long as it takes him to restore the videotapes of a young woman’s PhD dissertation…

Dan is a qualified restorer of nearly-destroyed videotapes, you see, and as we watch the series, we will see why he has such a personal connection to these videotapes and why the enigmatic and omniscient Virgil has hand-picked Dan, a bit of a loose cannon because of his past traumas, for this particular job.

We also meet Melody Pendras, the beautiful, dark-haired young college student who, in 1994, takes an apartment in the Visser Building, one of those fabulous old steeped-in-history New York apartment buildings that people are always getting murdered in in films.

She does this specifically because she is doing her college dissertation on the Visser Building, its history and its inhabitants, and she is never seen without her camcorder in her hand, the main tool of her trade.

She’s not just doing her dissertation purely because of the many attractions of the old Visser Building. She has a personal reason both tragic and seemingly impossible to achieve, and Melody is not the kind of person to give up.

She quickly finds out, though, that the Visser Building can be a very scary place to live, and that the exotic, eccentric inhabitants are doing something very sinister and highly suspect in the building’s Community Room every night after midnight. It’s something that harks back to the 1920s and a snuff film starring the beautiful but flawed and ultimately doomed Iris Vos, a member of ‘Twenties society with a very dark secret…

Melody finds out also that her own life could be in jeopardy here in the Visser Building, a full seventy years after the awful events occurred that first put the Visser Building on the map. Dan, watching the tapes in the dreadful isolation of the compound, senses too that Melody is in danger, not least from the eerie face that keeps appearing randomly on the videotapes.

Who or what is on the tapes? Is it after Dan too, whatever it is, and can Dan, who’s obviously smitten with the gorgeous feisty Melody, travel back in time to save Melody from the horrible fate that awaits her in the shadows…? And, even if he saves Melody, will he be able to save himself from a ghastly half-life lived in the place known as… The Other World…? You’ll have to watch the show till the end to find out, folks…

I love the séance in the Visser with all the crazy Visser tenants, like the horrible art collector Cassandra, the tormented psychic Beatriz and the bitchy opera composer Tamara. Not to mention the creepy college professor Samuel Spare, who would pass for a modern-day hipster, but who is clearly the ringleader of whatever it is that goes on in the Community Room after dark…

I love the character of Mark Higgins, Dan’s best- and only- friend, who is pretty much the template for every horror-and-science-fiction-crazed megasuperfan ever. He lives for horror and weird stuff and his horror podcast, and the friendship between him and Dan is so real and warm and genuine that he is actually willing to risk life and limb for his tragic friend. I also love Ratty, whom I kind of wish had had an even bigger part, as the friendship between him and Dan was also a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

I’ll leave you with a list of the horror films, things and characters either directly referenced in the series or indirectly hinted at, or even things that just came into my own mind as I watched it:

Stephen King’s THE SHINING; Jack Torrance; the Overlook Hotel; the maze on the grounds.

Stephen King’s DOLORES CLAIBORNE; the Eclipse that brought the whole town out in force to look at it and celebrate it.

Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY.

H.P. Lovecraft.

Christopher Lee.

Hammer’s TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER; THE DEVIL RIDES OUT.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

DON’T LOOK NOW; a deliberate reference!

Nigel Kneale’s THE STONE TAPES.

NIGHT OF THE DEMON, one of Britain’s best-loved horror films.

THE WICKER MAN, and anything else featuring a human sacrifice.

BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW.

THE EXORCIST.

Andrei Tarkovsky and his cult movie, SOLARIS.

WHAT LIES BENEATH; the movie, and the title of Episode 8 of the series.

Lin Shaye, beloved horror actress, going into ‘the Further’ in the INSIDIOUS movies. James Wan is one of the executive producers of ARCHIVE 81, after all.

PANIC ROOM and ‘90s sitcom FRIENDS, purely for those magnificent old brownstone apartment buildings!

That’s all I can think of for now, but there might be more, and you might even spot a few new ones yourself. I just love that this show was created by people with an absolute adoration, respect and obsession for horror; it comes across as a real labour of love when you watch it.

Just three further comments; One, I wish THE CIRCLE was a real show, it really speaks to me! Two, my daughter, who was born in the ‘Nineties, and who watched the show with me, was hopping mad that the film-makers of today are now referring to the ‘Nineties as the distant past. It makes her feel old, lol.

And three, the show features some highly intelligent and talented ‘mold,’ as the Americans call it, which is capable of forming itself into other-worldly swirls and patterns all by itself. I just want to say that I have exactly similar patches of talented and creative mould behind my toilet, at the back of all the wardrobes and creeping round my bedroom ceiling.

If it ever morphs into the portal to another dimension, you guys will be the first to know. If, as is more likely, it just causes me to hallucinate and go permanently off my noodle, well, then, I guess you guys will be hearing about that too.

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

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

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR. (2020) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR. (2020) BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF HENRY JAMES. A NETFLIX DRAMA CREATED BY MIKE FLANAGAN.
STARRING VICTORIA PEDRETTI, CARLA GUGINO, HENRY THOMAS, AMELIA EVE, OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN, TAHIRAH SHARIF, T’NIA MILLER, RAHUL KOHLI, KATE SIEGEL, BENJAMIN EVAN AINSWORTH AND AMELIE BEA SMITH.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is the companion series to THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, and, as far as I know, there are more to come, so yay. I enjoyed them both but, as in HILL HOUSE, there’s an awful lot of repetition in BLY MANOR that could have been chopped out, reducing the sprawling series from nine episodes to a tighter, more condensed six or even seven.

The story is basically a modern day re-telling of Henry James’s chilling novella, THE TURN OF THE SCREW, brilliantly filmed as THE INNOCENTS in 1961, in which two wealthy orphaned children are haunted, if not possessed, by the ghosts of two deceased servants. Bly Manor is the seat of most of the action, and fans of a good linear style of story-telling will be tearing their hair out after only a couple of episodes, so be warned, lol.

Dani Clayton is the pretty young American au pair who comes to Bly Manor to care for eight-year-old Flora and ten-year-old Miles, whose parents died in an accident in India, where they’d gone to try to repair a troubled marriage.

Dani is engaged by the children’s uncle, the stiff-upper-lipped business toff, Henry Wingrave, who only wants to be notified by Dani if someone actually dies or has a leg hanging off. And, even then, the doctor should still be the first port of call. Henry has his reasons for being stand-offish. Henry has his secrets. They will all out, in time.

The staff at Bly, besides Dani, includes Hannah Grose, the housekeeper, Owen the chef- yep, little Timmy and Tammy Snot-Nose have their own Paris-trained chef, the little snots!- and Jamie, the female gardener (yes, I suppose women can do that job now if they like), who takes a shine to Dani. A shine which is reciprocated. A reciprocated shine. In short, lesbians, lol. In a Henry James television adaptation, of all places, who’d have thunk it…? Well, it’s 2020 here, after all.

There are a lot of dead people floating around Bly Manor, including but not limited to Miss Jessel, the previous governess who committed certain deeds upon her own person, and Peter Quint, her lover and Henry Wingrave’s sort of go-fer or valet. Dominic and Charlotte, the children’s posh parents, are still hanging around as well.

People who die at Bly don’t seem to know they’ve died. It’s a real problem, and causes a lot of congestion in the passageways. I won’t spoil it for you by hinting at who’s dead and who’s not. Suffice it to say, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, that Bly Manor is the kind of place where people throw ducks at balloons and nothing is as it seems.

Doors open here into the past, the present and even the future. Faces appear at the window, or in the bath-water. It’s like a carnival of the dead, and no-one ever moves on to wherever they’re supposed to go to when they croak. What they need here is some kind of conductor, you know?

‘That’s right, move along here now, no queue-jumping, we’ll all get where we’re going in plenty of time. ‘Ere, wot you fink you’re doing, skipping the queue wivvout a ticket? Lord luv-a-duck! You’ll be the death of me one day, you lot will. ‘Ere, you! I thought I said NO BLEEDIN’ QUEUE-JUMPING…!’ And so on, etc.

The episodes in the middle are so repetitive they’ll do your head in and could easily have been slimmed down to make for easier viewing. The presence of the plague-doctor and the Lady in the Lake are explained eventually, which I appreciated.

Ironically, my favourite of all the nine episodes was the black-and-white one near the end, in which the origin story of the ghosts of Bly Manor is laid out for us. The story of the two noble sisters, Viola and Perdita Willoughby-Lloyd, is gripping and really, really sad.

The scenes with Viola locked in the room that represents death, until such time as her sister inadvertently frees her, really captured my imagination, and as for the Lady of the Lake, doomed to fade over time like cushion covers in the sun (Every mother ever in the summer; ‘Quick, the sun’s out, close the curtains! The sun will fade the cushion covers!’), well, I loved that story but wept over it too. It’s just too sad, and yet, we’ll all end up the same way, won’t we? It’s too sad to even contemplate…

The gorgeous Carla Gugino from GERALD’S GAME and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is narrating the story to an American wedding party. Victoria Pedretti is excellent as the au pair who won’t give in to the ghosts who are trying to take Miles and Flora. There’s more to like than dislike about this Gothic drama-slash-ghost-story, I think, and, overall, I enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to the next instalment in the series.

THE HAUNTING OF WOKING PIZZA EXPRESS, maybe, an emporium sure to be haunted one day in the future by the ghost of a non-sweating monarch who only ever wore a suit when he came to town and had never been upstairs in a certain person’s house, so that couldn’t be him in the photograph? We viewers are eagerly awaiting confirmation…

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

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

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MADELEINE MCCANN. (2019) A NETFLIX CRIME DOCUSERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MADELEINE MCCANN: A NETFLIX SERIES. (2019)
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I would well believe that this was the most reported-on missing persons case ever, as it is claimed to be. Blonde-haired British Madeleine, aged nearly four, went missing from her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, in the Algarve area of Portugal, in May 2007, making this probably the most reported-on family vacation of all time to boot.

Her two-year-old siblings, Sean and Amelie, were asleep nearby at the time. Her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, both doctors and practising Roman Catholics- I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything either!- were absent from the apartment at the time.

They were having a boozy holiday dinner in a so-called ‘nearby’ tapas restaurant, but I saw the map of that restaurant in relation to the apartment where the children were sleeping, unsupervised. It may be many things, people, but I would never have deemed it to be ‘nearby.’

I’m probably not the only person who would frown on the notion of leaving kids alone while the parents go out for the night, and for doing this exact thing, the McCanns probably lost a fair amount of public sympathy.

But it seems to have been common enough practice in this resort, even though the resort provided both a babysitting service and a night creche. Why would you not just use one of these, and be safe rather than sorry? Still, it’s easy to be wise in hindsight, and it’s even easier to judge the actions of others.

The ‘Tapas Seven,’ as they are known, all friends of the McCanns’ who dined together on that fateful night, maintain that they were all running back and forth from the restaurant all night checking on the kids, but, when Kate went to do her own checks around ten o’clock, Madeleine was gone from her room, the only clue to her disappearance an open window…

That’s when everything goes a bit mad. I hope it’s not a ‘spoiler’ to say that this excellent and thorough documentary series doesn’t hold the answers to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Madeleine has never been found, alive or dead, and people today are probably no nearer to finding out what happened to her than they were back in 2007.

What the eight episodes do is just collate all the information available on the case and dole them out to us in fifty-minute bursts. It looks extensively at the night of the disappearance, and the actions of the McCanns and the Portuguese police shortly afterwards, when, apparently, a lot of time was wasted and opportunities to find the child were botched or overlooked at first on the part of the police. There are so many theories about what might have happened to Britain’s best-known little missing person.

Did the McCanns, both doctors and Kate a qualified anaesthetist, accidentally over-sedate the child to make sure she slept while they were out for the evening, and then stage an abduction to cover it up? We see a journalist asking the McCanns if they dosed the child up on Calpol before heading out for the night, to which they reply in the negative.

One fact in favour of this ‘over-sedation’ theory seems to be the fact that Sean and Amelie, the two younger McCanns, themselves slept all the way through the furore that was the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the disappearance. On the other hand, if this theory is correct, where is the body? How was it made away with so successfully that it was never discovered?

Did an opportunistic paedophile take Madeleine, someone who perhaps knew that the kids would be alone that night while the parents dined out? Was she stolen to order by someone who really wanted a child of their own and couldn’t have one in the usual way? If this was the case, I wonder how the new ‘parents’ of a stolen child could ever hope to be happy with their new little daughter, knowing that their happiness was entirely based on another family’s misery.

Was she snatched by an international paedophile ring? Men were apparently seen hanging around the apartment and the little resort town around the time of the disappearance. They may have been something to do with it, or they may not have been. It’s as simple, and as complex, as that.

According to one of the private detectives the McCanns hired further down the road- I mean time-wise, not geographically!- there are ‘dark’ parts of the Internet where paedophiles can go and say what they’re ‘into’ and be supplied with it. That poor detective really looked like he had seen some things that he wished he could un-see, if you know what I mean, but some things, once seen… Well, you know yourself.

We hear from two men who were considered suspects by the police at one time, but no longer: Robert Murat, an English chap living in Portugal, and Sergey Malinka, a young Russian computer expert who had once done some work on a website for Murat.

We see what happens when the McCanns are named as ‘arguidos,’ or suspicious persons, themselves for a while by the Portuguese police, and how upsetting this was for the couple, because, as they said themselves, if the police thought the McCanns had done something to Madeleine, then they weren’t out looking for the ‘real’ culprit.

There were hundreds of sightings of little blonde girl children all over Europe after the disappearance, and those all had to be looked into. We hear from the double-glazing millionaire and his son who felt pity for the McCanns and involved themselves in the case, helping with some of the sightings. I didn’t care for either of these two lads. They seemed a bit, I don’t know, entitled or something, to me. Like, okay, we have money so we’ll conduct this investigation however we want. I didn’t really dig them.

We hear from Justine McGuinness, the McCanns’ first PR person, and Gonzalo Amaral, the detective who first worked on the case in Portugal and ultimately wrote a book about it. We hear from friends of the McCanns, who have nothing but sympathy for the couple, and we see loads of footage of the McCanns talking to the press, Kate clutching Madeleine’s favourite toy, Cuddle Cat, all the while.

We also hear from some people who have the temerity to suggest that other kids go missing too, but not all of them get the money and publicity thrown at them that the Madeleine McCann case was able to avail of. Hundreds of kids world-wide go missing every year. Anyone who actively looks to re-unite them with their parents is a hero in my book.

The weirdest thing of all about this baffling disappearance- well, one of them!- is that Madeleine would be eighteen years old now if she was still alive, which, hopefully, she might be. Maybe someone took her who then brought her up with kindness and care. It’s not outside the bounds of possibility.

For the public though, she’s frozen in time, like a fly in amber, as that cute little blonde four-year-old with the happy smile and that distinctive dark strip on the iris of her left eye. It’s one of the iconic images of the twenty-first century. Let’s hope that, one day, we find out the truth about what happened to her.     

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

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

SOPHIE: A MURDER IN WEST CORK. (2021) A NETFLIX SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

SOPHIE: A MURDER IN WEST CORK. (2021) A NETFLIX TRUE CRIME DOCUMENTARY SERIES DIRECTED BY JOHN DOWER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Once upon a time at Christmas, a beautiful young French woman travelled from France to West Cork in Ireland to stay in her isolated holiday home by the sea. Left behind in France, her husband and young son eagerly awaited her return.

She pottered round the small village of Schull, getting in a few groceries and probably passing the time of day and exchanging season’s greetings with the locals she met. Most of them knew her by sight, if not to speak to. She was a popular visitor to the town. The lights could be seen on in her house at night, indicating that the desolate cottage was occupied for the festive season.

Then, one fateful morning just before Christmas, the beautiful French woman was found beaten to death by the gateway to her house, clad in only her nightdress and a pair of boots. That woman was Sophie Toscan du Plantier, and this Netflix documentary attempts to tell her story…

Sophie was thirty-nine years old when she was brutally murdered outside her holiday home in Schull, prounounced ‘Skull.’ It was a quiet seaside town peopled with lots of artistic ‘blow-ins’ as well as the native inhabitants.

The ‘blow-ins’ were people who came to this isolated part of the world to paint and draw and write and sculpt and craft things and design things, because it’s a dream location for anyone who wishes to create anything.

Sophie herself was a writer, a film-and-television producer in her native France and a lover of Irish poetry. I’m guessing William Butler Yeats & Co. She was married to a famous French film producer called Daniel Toscan du Plantier, and their life together sounds like a hectic showbizzy round of red carpets and movie premieres and glittering parties attended by celebrities like themselves.

She was Daniel’s third wife, and a good sixteen years younger than him. She had a son from her first marriage, Pierre Louis, who was about fifteen at the time of his mother’s murder. In the photos of Sophie and her son, with their identical freckly faces and giant grins, Sophie looks like the happiest woman in the world.

So, who called to Sophie’s windswept cottage long after dark on the cold, frosty night of the 23rd December, 1996, somehow inveigled her out of the house wearing only her nightie, chased her across the fields, maybe, to the gateway to her property and there bashed her brains out with a concrete block and then left her there to die…?

Two upturned wine glasses were found on the draining board of her sink, leading the police to think that maybe she’d offered hospitality to her killer before he turned nasty and frightened her enough to flee from him. Sophie, who’s been described by friends and family as having a side to her that was attracted to all things gothic and mysterious, had had unsettling premonitions of doom shortly before her murder…

This Netflix documentary is possibly unique in the history of documentaries in that it features, alive and well and actually walking and talking, the man accused of Sophie’s murder but never charged with it, Ian Bailey. He’s a former journalist from Manchester and a massive hulking brute of a man who moved to Ireland in 1991 after the failure of his marriage.

He has lived in Schull since then, and, from 1992 to earlier on this year, he lived with his partner of thirty years, Jules Thomas, an artist with three daughters. Ian Bailey, according to nearly everyone who takes part in the documentary, especially the locals of Schull, is not a man you would want to see within a mile of your daughter, sister, mother or female friend…

The account of the injuries he inflicted on Jules Thomas while drunk is so sickening I won’t recount it here. That just means, of course, that he’s a man who’s committed violence towards a woman, and it doesn’t necessarily mean he murdered Sophie. So, what makes so many people think it was him?

On the night of the murder, he claimed to have been in bed with Jules all night. Then he admitted having got up, after all, and gone down to his writing studio a little way down the road and stayed up all night working. A witness who later strangely retracted her statement said she’d seen him on the bridge near Sophie’s house at 3am on the night of the murder, wearing his trademark long black coat and acting oddly.

As a local journalist ‘on the spot,’ so to speak, he covered the story himself for different newspapers, often suggesting that the clue to Sophie’s death lay in France and not Schull. There were things he knew about before other people knew about them that suggested he had some ‘insider knowledge’ of the murder.

A guest at the Thomas house around this time claimed to have seen Bailey’s long coat soaking in a bucket of cold water in the shower of the house, not the usual way of cleaning such a garment. You normally only soak a garment like that if it has blood on it.

On St. Stephen’s Day- the day after Christmas Day- Bailey lit a bonfire in his back garden. Forensic experts later found the remains of a coat and wellington boots amongst the ashes, but nothing that constituted solid evidence, apparently.

Strangest of all, Bailey confessed to more than one inhabitant of Schull that ‘he’d done it; he’d gone too far and bashed her head in with a rock.’ He denied knowing Sophie, but locals say otherwise.

Bailey, an obvious narcissist and known attention-seeker who apparently, when he moved to Schull, would shush an entire pub without warning so he could dramatically recite one of his poems, was the man whose name was on everyone’s lips. (In the film, he quotes his own poetry whenever a chance crops up.) To hear him talk, he seems to relish the publicity and being in the limelight, even if it’s mostly notoriety he’s gaining.

He was arrested more than once, but released each time for lack of evidence. Files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the fellow who decides if there is enough evidence to go ahead and charge someone and commit them for trial, but they came back with the directive that the evidence against Ian Bailey was all circumstantial and not hard fact.

So, the man who nowadays effects an eccentric style of dress- in the film, he’s writing a poem on a public bench dressed in shorts, sandals, a big wide-brimmed hat and fringed scarf- still walks free. He apparently runs a village stall in Schull these days selling pizzas, if I’m not mistaken, and, erm, his poems, and Jules Thomas has finally ditched him…

The French held their own trial, urged on by Sophie’s now grown-up son and her friends and relatives. They found Ian Bailey guilty of murder in absentia and sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison.

The Irish courts apparently are not going to boot him across the Channel to face the music, so, to all intents and purposes, he’s a free man. Until the next development in this sensational case, and, trust me, it’s not the last we’ve heard either of Ian Bailey or Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the beautiful Frenchwoman who met a horrible death in a lonely field in the dead of night one fateful Christmas…

It was kind of chilling, yet strangely endearing, to see all the old television news reports and the coverage of the death by the Irish state broadcaster, RTE, and watch all the old familiar faces reading the News and commenting on the murder. Marian Finucane is dead now; Brian Dobson retired. Pascal Sheehy is still going strong. The scenery is stunning and as gothic as Sophie could ever have wished for; the haunting music ditto. A few local legends and rumours of hauntings are thrown in for good measure.

The film is crystal-clear about who is the villain. They might as well put horns and a tail on Ian Bailey. Is he just a bullying, controlling asshole who beats women and craves and cultivates constant attention, or is he something even worse?

Feel free to convict him yourself in your own mind, as the Irish courts seem oddly reluctant to do so, or you can of course plump for ‘innocent until proven guilty.’  Or does the latter go out the window when a man has already been convicted by the court of public opinion? If Ian Bailey isn’t actually guilty of Sophie’s murder, then he’s had a hell of a rough quarter of a century…

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

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