After spending eleven years in custody, Jackie - played by Whalley - escapes from an open prison with her more worldly wise, sexually knowledgeable friend played by Tilly Vosburgh and hitch their way to the Welsh seaside resort of Rhyl where they befriend a couple of young guys played by Iain Glen and Phil Daniels who have arrived in town looking for work. Jackie's attention is immediately captured by Glen's character 'Sailor', so called because he briefly joined the navy. Totally naive to the ways of the world, as one would expect from someone who has spent their formative years in prison - though in stark contrast to Vosburgh's character who immediately uses her sexuality as currency gaining them a caravan to sleep in for the night from an amorous bewigged local - she believes Sailor to be her ideal and tells him, in an especially effective scene on a mountainside, ‘What I want most in the whole world is to be in love and to be loved’. He immediately scoffs at her comment, unable to comprehend how someone can be so innocent at 21. When he challenges her, claiming that hundreds must have fancied her before now, commenting 'Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror?' the script explores the notions of identity someone has when all they can see is the fact that they are effectively the nation's bogeyman (or in this case, woman/child) Meanwhile Daniels and Vosburgh's character circle around one another in a more down to earth fashion whilst reality slowly encroaches on the girls as the net draws closer and closer upon them.
Adrian Shergold and David Snodden's beautifully crafted, poignant script delivers life's harsh lessons to someone who has, because of her guilt, been cloistered from the world in an extremely affecting and heartfelt manner. Similar stories can be told, but I doubt many have the same heart and intelligence as this Screen Two drama. My only criticism is that the drama could easily have done without the subplot of the journalists played by Peter Wight et al, because I don't feel it adds very much and the fact that they track down the mother of one of Jackie's victims to Rhyl is a little too much of a coincidence to swallow. But this is a minor grumble in what is a very rewarding TV play which stays with you long after Carole King finishes singing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow over the credits. It's also a film which has a special resonance to someone like me, who spent many a summer holiday in Rhyl during that period and who has worked with high risk ex offenders returning to the community and all that that entails.
The cast, in particular the four leads, are superb but special mention must go to Joanne Whalley who really could do no wrong during the 1980s, turning in first rate performances one after the other and was often a particularly damaged, haunting presence on screen which only served to compliment - and prove she was more than - her striking looks. Trivia fans might like to take note that many Mike Leigh regulars appear throughout the film, with Daniels, Vosburgh and Wight (Meantime) as well as Sam Kelly in a touching and tender scene with Whalley near the end. Look out too for Rebecca Callard as the young Jackie and her real life mother Beverley (Liz McDonald from Corrie) Callard as the WPC guarding her in her cell.
I vaguely recall seeing this as a child when it aired in '87 but have naturally chosen to class it as a first watch. It's available to see in instalments on YouTube and if you haven't guessed already, I recommend it.
To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic Play For Today's, Screen One and Screen Two's please sign the petition I started here