Last night I watched May 33rd
, a one-off TV drama about Ella (Lia Williams) who has Dissociative Identity Disorder. This means she’s created several personalities to deal with the trauma of, and this is where it starts getting bleak, repeated ritual abuse. I missed the first few minutes, but Ella starts seeing an osteopath (called Edward and played with a wonderful Scandinavian stoicism by Soren Byder) who triggers these personalities as he starts her treatment. Edward talks to Hannah (one of “the children”) and Stevie (whose job is to protect Ella) and starts to learn about what has happened to her. When he realizes that the abuse is still happening, he asks her why she doesn’t go to the police.
: I’ll take you home and you can show me these people. We’ll take a police officer.
: It’s no use. We’ll arrive and they’ll be very polite and take you to one side and explain that “she has 15 years of mental illness” – which I do - and then the policeman will arrive and they’ll be helpful and understanding and he’ll write a few things down in his notebook, ask a few questions. Then he’ll ask to have a quick word with you outside, and afterwards he’ll say that he’s sorry to have bothered everyone and leave. And then you’ll apologize for interrupting their evening and you’ll leave. And then, after you’re gone, they’ll punish me.
The cult itself is revealed late in the drama and without any goat horns or blood. It’s just a group of well-dressed, middle aged men and women - the mundanity of the scenario ultimately more sinister - casually preparing for the ‘ritual’ by putting batteries in camcorders, asking if anyone wants a cup of tea and turning crucifixes upside down.
If there’s one thing that British TV does better than any other country, it’s bleak. Even on UK sitcoms when they try and saturate the colours to Friendsesque
proportions, there’s still a drab quality, like there may be dry rot growing behind the set’s freshly wallpapered walls. The ending was so downbeat that I actually started yelling at the TV, telling it to find some resolution for Ella. But it ignored me and there were no happy endings.
The sensations I experienced watching it reminded me of another, similarly themed film. When I was fourteen my Social Studies teacher showed our class Sybil
, starring Sally Field - a story about a woman who, as a child, suffered so much physical abuse she created different characters to protect herself. I was in the ‘Accelerant Class’ at high school, which basically meant me were cocky little bastards, prone to being loud and argumentative. Most of the teachers were afraid of us. But Mrs Oliver sat us down in the AV room and we watched the movie, engrossed. We even elected to come back during lunchtime, our rightful hour of unteachinglyness, to finish watching the film (it’s four hours long). If anyone made a noise during it, the cooler, sportier boys would tell them to shut up. I have no idea if the film was related to any work we were doing, in fact, I’m almost sure it wasn’t. Mrs Oliver was a smart, attractive woman with a son roughly the same age as us and she wanted to challenge us. Although it might not seem an appropriate movie to show a bunch of pubescents, while other teachers were trying to stop us climbing the walls and concentrate on Lord of the Flies
, or Bless the Beasts & Children
, this sad and bizzarre tale gave my class our first, and possibly only, cultural bond, and I’m sure if I met anyone from that class now it wouldn’t be long until we brought it up, if only to marvel at the strangeness of things.