Think about it. Thirteen years. It’s a long time. Lots can change and will have changed: new technological trends and advancements, endless songs and news events, new words added to the collective vernacular and, crucially, people and their relationships. Imagine, after over a decade of captivity, walking out into a world you’ve not seen for 13 years, blinking against the harsh light, your lungs almost burning as they inhale real, cool air for the first time in what feels like forever. Everything and nothing has changed. The caged, one-room reality you’ve known for so long is now gone, suddenly replaced by something your subconscious mind knows, but your conscious mind does not. Freedom. What does that concept even mean anymore? You feel your weak leg muscles buckling beneath you as you lurch into the open, a world you half-remember, its rush of sounds, colours and smells making you disoriented. The small one-room world that you knew that was so regulated and controlled? Those boundaries are now gone, replaced by chaos. Beautiful, ever-changing, free chaos. Your eyes twitch as things we all take for granted zoom in and out of view; every split-second filled with an overwhelming barrage of sensual information your synapses struggle to process. But you’re free. Just keep running. Remember, remember. Phone box. Call someone. Remember, remember. This is how Ivy Moxam felt when she stumbled from her own captivity. And it was just the start of her story; an extraordinary story.
NB. Because this is, currently, available online and can be watched at any time, many will not have seen it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s simple: do not read this review.
Written by Marnie Dickens, Thirteen is a five-part story that twists and turns right from the very start and is so affecting it stayed with me days after I first watched this episode a few weeks ago. At once you’re feeling so much emotion and sympathy for Ivy (played here by the excellent Jodie Comer), but also plunged into a murky netherworld of potential manipulation and disingenuity.
To start with we see the world through Ivy’s eyes – right from her very first, shaky steps as she emerges, reborn into a world she hasn’t seen for over a decade.
As she finds herself in the safety of police custody, she’s assigned two officers who investigate her case – DI Elliot Carne (Richard Rankin) and DS Lisa Merchant (Valene Kane) – and help her to reintegrate into the world. One of their first duties is to inform Ivy’s family that they have found someone who says she is Ivy. Her mother, Christine (Natasha Little) is overcome with relief and emotion, while her husband Angus (Stuart Graham) is the same. But, as I said, 13 years is a long time and their family unit has been shattered since Ivy’s disappearance – Christine and Angus are estranged, while younger sister Emma (Katherine Rose Morley) has now grown into an adult in her own right, due to be married.
Naturally, Christine wants to believe that Ivy is who she says she is at all costs, despite DI Carne and DS Merchant’s investigation, which begins to uncover discrepancies in Ivy’s story. In her disoriented state Ivy tells them during the interview process that she was never allowed to leave her tiny room of confinement, but when the police locate the house in question they also find a passport photo of Ivy in the kitchen, which suggests that she had left the house at some point.
And this is the first of many tug-of-war moments Dickens takes us on. One moment we’re absolutely with Ivy – especially as she begins to settle in back at home and eats proper food, looking at it like something alien and strange, with knives and forks. She explains she was only ever allowed to eat food from tins, with her hands only. Ivy flinches every time she’s touched by a man, even her father, who has moved back into the home because Christine is so adamant they must present a united front for their returning daughter. It’s incredibly affecting stuff.
But then we begin to doubt Ivy. She seems to know every wrinkle of her old bedroom and house, but is this because the real Ivy told her about them? Is she Ivy or is she an imposter? Sister Emma is the only one unconvinced that she is who she says she is. And there’s a hint that Ivy is beginning to manipulate DI Carne, who is so horrified and sympathetic to Ivy’s case he’s beginning to throw the rule book out of the window and offer her his private support. It’s these characters that help with the suspense – characters like Christine and DI Carne represent the case for Ivy, while DS Merchant and Emma are characters that signify suspicion. Every time they’re onscreen we’re pulled one way and the other. It’s very clever writing and plotting.
But at the centre of it all is Ivy, who remains neutral, while all around her represent other things. Ivy isn’t so much an unreliable narrator, but an almost benign presence. It’s disconcerting and she’s (purposely) difficult to read. As she begins to regain confidence, she applies make-up and hangs out with childhood sweetheart Tim (Aneurin Barnard), who hides his wedding ring from her.
Everyone is hiding something: Ivy, potentially; her mother and father who want to keep their marriage break-up a secret, for now; Tim and his marriage…
Honestly, I have no idea where this going to go. Even in this first hour – with the kidnapper long gone and doing his business again – there was so much packed into the episode, but it never felt rushed or strained. It was beautifully written and featured some top-notch performances, especially from Jodie Comer in the lead role, Natasha Little as her fraught mother and Valene Kane as the suspicious DS Merchant.
But once again, at the centre of it all is Ivy, and her plight: the way her identity was stripped from her and the way now, her identity and place in her family unit under scrutiny, is extremely difficult to comprehend. Personal freedom, sense of self and their place in the world are things many take for granted. That’s why Thirteen had me gripped from the very beginning, and why Ivy and her story stayed with me for days afterwards.
This episode will be shown on BBC2 on Sunday 6th March, 10pm