Twenty-fourteen’s Murdered By My Boyfriend was a harrowing tale based on a real-life story, detailing an abusive relationship that culminated in the brutal murder of a young woman. Not only was it an engrossing, compelling and extremely difficult to watch drama, it was also a necessary watch – it shed light on the kinds of power relationships that exist within an abusive relationship that are rarely reported by the media, and answered that age-old question: why did she ever stay with him? Its star, Georgina Campbell, rightly won a BAFTA for her incredible performance. Now there’s a follow-up – Murdered By My Father – which looks for all the world to be another difficult but vital watch.
NB: This is now online to watch, but many won’t have seen it yet. There are spoilers ahead.
I’m unclear as to whether this story is based one true story or inspired by a few, but the BBC says this about it:
With 12,000 ‘honour-based’ crimes reported in the UK since 2010 and an estimated 60 murders committed in the past five years, ‘honour’ violence continues to occur across various cultures and communities in the UK today. Based on testimonies of a range of individuals as well as charities set up to deal with the problem, this contemporary film is a riveting exploration of how family love and duty can be turned to violence and murder in a British home.
So the question is – the same question I asked myself when I sat down to review Murdered By My Boyfriend – how on earth do you (I) review something so harrowing that has been based on fact? How do you review something so important, when it’s plain that the programme makers want to put you through the mill and draw attention to a complex but heinous crime?
I think I’m just going to write and you can tell me what you think, because this will affect different people in different ways. But make no mistake – this will affect you.
The first scene is harrowing. A young boy runs through an estate back to his home, only to be met by the image of his father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar) bloodied and dazed, lying on a pile of broken furniture. It’s evident that this is a flash-forward, and the foreboding scene is only a taste of things to come.
We quickly meet this family in happier times. Shahzad has a teenage daughter called Salma, ‘promised’, we soon learn, to Haroon, a local boy from another Asian family in the neighbourhood. We see Shahzad, Salma – who has assumed the duties her mother, now deceased, would normally perform – and her younger brother Hassan engaging in family life. Cooking, eating, laughing, living.
Because of the absence of his wife, Shahzad is extremely keen to make sure his daughter follows through on her arranged marriage, not least because he works with Haroon and his niggly father. But there’s something else compelling Shahzad here – as alien as it will seem to many here in the UK, the prospect of an arranged marriage provides comfort, an alliance with centuries-old traditions and immense pride. This is what the show tries to explain (touchingly at times): that however strange an arranged marriage may seem to many, it’s a concept that has existed for centuries and, for many first and second-generation Asian parents here in the UK it’s the way things are done. Full stop.
But for Salma, a smart, funny and life-loving teen, she’s confronted with a quandry – live the life her dad wants to her lead, or now fully meshed into a British way of life, live something different? Even though she’s promised to Haroon, she’s choosing differently and enjoying an illicit affair with a man called Imi, who lives in household that isn’t as strict.
We’re back to a subject that has appeared in all the best crime dramas this year – ownership and identity. If 2015’s theme of choice was grief, this year’s is ownership and identity. We’ve seen it in everything from Happy Valley to, most recently, Thirteen. Who are we? Who decides who we are? How can we change who we are?
For Salma, as her affair with the dashing Imi escalates, we just know something monumentally awful is going to happen (the clue is in the title, after all). There’s a feeling of dread as her wedding to Haroon approaches, her intended catching her with Imi, the way he and his father treat Shahzad in their work yard… even though there are complex cross-cultural concepts being explored here, the way Haroon and his father chide and bully Shahzad, already sensitive because of the loss of his wife, is telling – no matter what cultural context, their disgusting judgement of Salma is pure misogyny and down to a pathological hatred and fear of women.
Their words push Shahzad over the edge (“When they look at you, they see me,” he explains to his daughter at one juncture), and soon the final, awful showdown takes place. When Shahzad kills his daughter – so shamed is he by her perceived disrespect and dishonour – it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to watch. He beat her, he dragged her and he strangled her with such force and venom it left me shaken. He staggered to his feet in a daze, muttering to himself, not quite believing what he had done.
You could argue that the finale was a little too graphic, and added in various familiar thriller devices Murdered By My Boyfriend didn’t pander to – voiceovers, Imi receiving a text from Salma but arriving at the flat too late etc – which perhaps let it down as a drama a little bit (did we really need them?).
But these are objective things. There’s no doubt Murdered By My Father will shock and enrage, but in a world where we increasingly retreat into our own self-segregated communities and are taught to hate each other by a fear-mongering press and media, this has to be required viewing. Not only because it teaches us about the complexities of arranged marriages – whether you agree with them or not Asian communities have lived in the UK for over half a century now, and its about time we understood their cultural traditions – but also to re-educate and remind us that there’s one thing that cannot be tolerated no matter what culture you come from: violence against women.
Before I finish, I want to big up Adeel Akhtar. He’s at the top of his game at the moment – he was excellent in River and excellent in the recent Night Manager – and he’s astonishing in Murdered By My Father. He’s not portrayed as a monster, even though his final act is utterly monstrous – instead he’s a complex, believable character who’s pushed over the edge by people, not by concepts. Kiran Sonia Sawar is excellent as the doomed Salma, but Akhtar is sensational in another hard, harrowing but necessary drama.
For our review of Murdered By My Boyfriend, go here
For our interview with Murdered By My Boyfriend’s Georgina Campbell, go here