Kiri was an engaging drama that raised a lot of questions, but offered few answers

Alex Moreland
Contributor
Kiri asked questions, but offered few answers (Channel 4)

Kiri, a four-part drama about the death of a young girl in care, concluded on Channel 4 last night; it was an engaging, if at times messy, piece of television that raised a lot of questions, but offered few answers.

An obvious comparison to make, perhaps, would be to Broadchurch – the popular ITV drama centred around the murder of a young boy, and how that affected the local community. Certainly, there’s some obvious similarities; both focus on the death of a child, and the impact of that event on those around them. However, Kiri held a more singular fascination with individuals than Broadchurch did, largely eschewing the investigative aspects that the earlier drama placed front and centre. It wasn’t a police procedural, not really; far moreso, Kiri was an examination of those most immediately affected by the eponymous character’s death. This fascination was the best aspect of Kiri, prompting it to try and delve into the neuroses and nuances of its characters in the wake of a tragedy.

At the centre of the drama, at least initially, was Sarah Lancashire’s Miriam, the social worker responsible for Kiri before she died. It’s a strong performance, spanning both caustic anger and quiet vulnerability; it’s in no small part because of Lancashire that Miriam is as effective a character as she is. Nonetheless, though, the series showed an unexpected willingness to move beyond Miriam and her story, arguably side-lining Lancashire for extended periods as the drama continued. It’s debatable, of course, how well this worked; the opportunity to focus on the other characters is welcome, but they’re not all quite as multi-faceted as Miriam. Of the supporting cast, it’s Lucian Msamati as Tobi Akindele who leaves the most lasting impression, a proud but comprised man caught in a difficult position; the rest of the characters aren’t quite as impactful, and it’s difficult to say they worked exactly.

Sarah Lancashire and Lucian Msamati in Kiri (Channel 4)

Thematically, however, the series was weak; it gestured at larger ideas, broaching the topics of race and the role of the media, but was constrained in its interrogation of these ideas. Such concepts are a recurring thread across Kiri, but they’re generally left unexamined – a background presence, rather than the focus of any particularly sharp or incisive commentary. Writer Jack Thorne spoke about how he wanted the drama to “pose questions rather than answer them necessarily, noting that he “always likes things where [he doesn’t] know the answer”. There’s a value to this, of course – and, indeed, a sense to it. Many of the ideas Kiri touches on are complex, lacking easy answers, yet there’s a sense as well that the series just doesn’t entirely try to get to grips with them. Much of the complexity and nuance surrounding these concepts is acknowledged, but unexplored; there’s a lack of any real scrutiny to Kiri.

The ending is interesting in this regard, a conscious rejection of the neat conclusion we’ve come to expect from programmes of this type, or indeed any sense of justice. It’s an interesting choice, certainly; it’s debatable, though, how effective it was in this piece of drama on its own terms. There’s a sense that the reveal that Jim murdered Kiri was decided on first, structured as a twist and then worked back from; it’s a piece of plot artifice, rather than something borne of the story itself. In turn, then, it feels somewhat unsatisfying – rather than an intentional note of ambiguity, which can be a resolution in and of itself, a lack of payoff. It’s the lack of this thematic unity between the beginning and end of the drama that leaves it feeling unfinished; the ending refers to ideas that were hidden in subtext but needed to be elevated to the forefront for the resolution to resonate.

Ultimately, Kiri was still an engaging piece of television; well-acted and well-directed, the lapses in certain aspects of the writing weren’t quite enough to diminish the drama’s moment-to-moment entertainment value entirely. Yet there’s a sense that, perhaps, it could have been more than what it was.

Related:

Broadchurch series three was about toxic masculinity – so why did it end by saying “not all men”?

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