Big sky blog 1200x768

Culture watch

6th January 2022 | Modern slavery

How modern slavery story lines have emerged in recent TV shows and novels

The Clewer Initiative

Claire Walford, communications officer at The Clewer Initiative, reviews some recent television programmes and novels that have raised awareness of modern slavery in the UK.

Big Sky – a Jackson Brodie novel by Kate Atkinson

I have just finished reading Kate Atkinson’s international bestseller, Big Sky. It is the fifth novel featuring Jackson Brodie as a private investigator. While not as fast-paced as Kate Atkinson’s other novels, it offers a realistic portrayal of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK.

Set in a sleepy coastal village in North Yorkshire, Jackson Brodie is quickly on the trail of a sinister network of powerful businessmen, politicians and prominent local personalities who are embroiled in a trafficking network. We are brought into the world of eastern European sisters Nadja and Katja who are excited about a new life in the UK and unaware that the employment agency ‘Anderson Price Associates’ is a front for a human trafficking ring. Nadja and Katja are collected from the airport, escorted to a hotel and taken out shopping, totally unaware of the fate that awaits them. The trio running ‘Anderson Price Associates’ are members of society, with mainstream jobs, homes and families, living double lives as they trap and exploit vulnerable women from abroad.

Kate Atkinson has done her homework and we hope that through this novel, a new audience will become more aware of modern slavery.

The Outlaws – Stephen Merchant comedy on iPlayer

You wouldn’t usually think it appropriate to utter the words “county lines” and “comedy” in the same breath but that is what you have in The Outlaws, the new Stephen Merchant drama on BBC. Stephen Merchant is a comedian, writer, director, actor and presenter, famous for creating The Office alongside Ricky Gervais.

In his latest project, he portrays the cruelty of County Lines and how hard it can be to escape the clutches of gangs. Seven very different characters are forced together to do community service having committed a variety of crimes. During their community service, renovating a local hall, they discover a bag of cash. Before they know it, they are up against a local county lines gang and it is hard to see a way out.

Set in Bristol, the dark comedy is gritty and deeply sympathetic to the protagonist, Christian. It is particularly poignant watching Christian and Esme, a brother and sister growing up on an estate, as they try to avoid gang life but inevitably get drawn into it. We see the cycle of poverty, drugs and neglect in action and how hard it is for children from dysfunctional homes to break free of these chains.

You Don’t Know Me – courtroom drama on iPlayer

Also on BBCiplayer at the moment is the four-part drama You Don’t Know Me. Again, we follow the story of Hero, a young man who gets dragged into a criminal underworld. His girlfriend gets trafficked into sex work over a debt her imprisoned brother owes. Hero insists he didn't shoot and kill the lead gangster Jamil and each episode consists of him telling his version of events. Throughout the retelling we see how few options he and his family have in the face of powerful and violent gangs. In an echo of The Outlaws, we again witness a brother and sister who want to carve out a different life for themselves, going to school and getting respectable jobs, but criminal gangs get a foothold and threaten to destroy their future.

Sign up for our newsletter

Get regular news and updates straight to your inbox

Sign up now