I don’t need my TV dramas to be totally realistic – I enjoyed Tom Hardy’s ludicrous, grunty Taboo for heaven’s sake. And I don’t need it to be gritty – the sheer house porn of Big Little Lies was half the fun. I don’t even need it to make sense half of the time – after all, Game of Thrones seems to have binned chronology and it’s still epic fun. I will watch almost any thriller, and if it’s on at 9pm in the first half of the week, I will probably love it even more.
But ITV’s Liar is a whodunnit too far for me. Set in Deal, it sees recently single school teacher Laura, played by Joanne Froggatt, go for dinner with her sister’s surgeon colleague Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd), only to wake up the next morning traumatised and report him for rape. The setting is as scenic as Broadchurch, the flashback technique flitting between aftermath and memories is as common as the aspirational homes in which the drama is taking place, and the tone is as familiar as the soap operas and sofa ads that sit either side of it.
Therein lies the rub: in making the show seem as familiar as it does, it is hiding the essence of what it is. Instead of it being a whodunnit about Laura’s potential rapist, it is a whodunnit about which of the two protagonists is lying. Its central plot point is the suggestion that Laura is a fantasist, who for reasons we’re being invited to examine, might have made the entire thing up.
Rape is not uncommon. Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped each year. But fake rape accusations are exceptionally rare as evidenced by the press attention that Jemma Beale received for her ten year sentence last month. Ten years! The average sentence for actual rape is eight years. So a drama that puts the crime of making up a rape and holds that up as comparable to committing a rape, seems, well… it seems unhelpful.
Obviously, watching Liar is not going to persuade all of its viewers that all women are habitually creating rape fabulations. After all, if television was that powerful, women would never leave the house. The biggest TV dramas of this year, Taboo, Broadchurch, Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies, Apple Tree Yard, Happy Valley, Jamestown: none of these would have a functioning narrative, if not for a woman being raped.
The inevitable has happened and shows such as This Morning are now inviting victims of false rape accusations on to their sofas
What it does is open the conversation for the two crimes to be treated equally. This curious fake news era that we seem currently to be wading through has developed quite a taste for discussing an issue from “both perspectives” as if each were entirely equal. Climate change is one example, and racism is another. A scientist who has quantifiable evidence of climate change is not an equal sparring partner to someone who simply “thinks it’s all hogwash”. A person of colour who has experienced racism is not the same as a white person who feels they missed out on an opportunity on account of political correctness. And being falsely accused of rape is not “the other side” of being raped. It is terrible, traumatic but an entirely different experience with consequences from the physical to the societal which are in no way comparable. To pitch a TV drama that opens up this debate as a talking point to net viewers is distasteful, but to make it, put some serious “gritty drama” music behind the police interview scenes and pretend it is taking an issue seriously is bleak. The inevitable has happened and shows such as This Morning are now inviting victims of false rape accusations on to their sofas to discuss the matter as if it is commonplace, rather than extraordinarily rare.
Just because the situation is rare doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it through our storytelling, but Liar is drawing a direct comparison that doesn’t exist. It isn’t spitballing with some ideas about gender politics, it is sending the conversation in a direction that is grossly unfair to both parties. And when – as is the case – it is written by two men and directed by two men, the conversation feels even more one-sided. Next week, I notice Big Little Lies is being repeated at the same time. It will feel good to watch something brought to the screen by women.