THERE are lots of demands on our time.
Too much to do, too little time to do it in.
But if you have time to watch one TV drama this week, then please make it be BBC1’s Stolen.
I met up with leading man Damian Lewis at BBC TV Centre in London earlier this year.
Before later seeing a special preview of the film at the BFI in London.
There’s more to report from Damian on another day.
But first, here’s my MEN TV feature.
ONCE upon a time, each and every day in fact, children are being trafficked into the UK and put to work. Unpaid, unprotected, unseen.
So begins a shocking, disturbing and sometimes distressing TV drama. Filmed in Manchester and Salford, Stolen is a gripping thriller based on a reality hidden away from our everyday view.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” reflects Band of Brothers star Damian Lewis, who plays Det Insp Anthony Carter, head of a human trafficking unit racing against time to save child slaves.
“It left me reeling at the thought of just how overwhelming the scale is of the trafficking that comes in and out of this country in human beings…little children.”
The feature length BBC1 film is directed by award-winning Salford-raised Justin Chadwick. He went to great lengths to recruit an extraordinary cast of raw, new child actors. “It was incredibly important to me to go into the communities in Manchester and elsewhere,” says Justin. “I wanted to show it how it is, from the child’s point of view.”
Rosemary (Gloria Oyewumi) is a terrorised 11-year-old girl from West Africa who arrives at Manchester Airport with instructions to destroy her passport and then contact a man who will sell her as a house servant. When she is older, he will buy her back for sale into the sex trade.
“It’s beautiful,” cries an excited Ukranian boy called Georgie, 14, (Inokentijs Vitkevics) as he arrives in the city, a place he believes is the promised land where his dreams will come true.
But the criminals who have brought him here have other plans, selling him as forced labour in an illegal sandwich making factory, where a land of nightmares awaits.
A Vietnamese boy called Kim Pak, 15, (Huy Pham) is transported to England, sealed in a container, only to be imprisoned again to tend a cannabis farm. He is locked behind the doors of a suburban home, where night is always a tortured day, thanks to the bright lamps used to grow the crop.
Prepare to shed tears for these children while holding your breath to learn their ultimate fates, and then be left wondering what might be happening under our own noses.
The 90-minute drama is written by Stephen Butchard, who spent seven years working on the project after hearing a short radio news report. Those involved say hundreds of children may be enslaved in the UK but the numbers could be much more.
Stolen features cinematic shots of Manchester and Salford, with locations including Piccadilly Station, Chinatown and Salford Quays. But they simply represent any modern European city where child slaves are hidden from view.
I first saw this remarkable film at a special preview almost two months ago and can guarantee that it will stay with you for some time afterwards. “It’s a very moving film about the overwhelming nature of the problem,” explains Damian, when we meet several weeks before.
“The script is very clever because it charts in a very simple way the journeys of these kids once they come into the country. The criminals involved are very slippery and it’s very difficult to pin the blame on them.
“It makes you look at aeroplanes passing through the sky very differently. Is there a child on that plane that’s just been trafficked from wherever? And I think people who see this film will feel the same way. It goes on all around us in the shadows.”
Det Insp Carter is a father himself, having just moved to the city with his wife and young schoolgirl daughter. “She is in a new school and is dislocated. That’s in stark contrast to the way these other three children are being treated. It becomes a story about all of our children and the way we treat them. How precious they are.
“It reinforces how lucky we are that by accident of birth we’re born British. We’re born and raised up in a country where we condemn these things, we don’t think they’re right. Other cultures don’t always have the luxury of making those choices, because of extreme hardship.”
He adds: “I’m a parent of two very small children. The thought of trafficking my own child to another country, knowing what it is that they might be going to, for some sort of financial recompense, however destitute and poor I am, however firm the grip the local gangmaster has on me and my family, it’s unthinkable.
“But this happens. Sometimes because they are naive. ‘This man has told me this could be a great opportunity for my young girl or boy. They’ll go and get an eductation in England or wherever.’ And then, of course, the realities are very different.”
The authorities aim to find and rescue children before they vanish from view. “You rely on evidence from people who have suffered at the hands of the gangs and on them telling the truth. There’s a long game that you have to play of bringing people around and getting them to trust you and give you information,” adds Damian.
He insists viewers should not be scared off by the subject matter. “It’s not an overly gruelling watch. Manchester looks beautiful and so filmic. Stunning, actually. You see what a varied and wonderful city it is.
“And there’s a real spine to the story, in this ticking clock element – a man who needs to get to the bottom of the matter before these kids are lost forever in the shadows of the underworld and trafficked to places where we’ll never see them again.”
Does he think this drama can make a difference? “If it can provoke and stimulate and prod people out of their slumbers and out of their complacency, then I think absolutely it can make a difference. I do think it can change things.”
Stolen is on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday.(July 3)