Don't Take My Baby review: '5* - doomed BBC3 makes one of the year's best dramas'
Don't be surprised if last night’s BBC3 play Don’t Take My Baby emulates last year’s similarly starkly titled Murdered By My Boyfriend and receives a few nominations come BAFTA awards time. The irony is that BBC3 as we know it will have disappeared by then.
From next January, it will be an online channel. Whatever slim chance there was of the decision being reversed or, at the very least, modified has vanished now that Bullingdon Club bozo David Cameron and his henchmen have carte blanche to tear the fabric of the BBC apart.
The channel’s core audience of 16-to- 34-year-olds is sure to follow it online. The real losers will be the casual viewers who tune in to BBC3 sporadically when they notice a programme they think might appeal to them.
Don’t Take My Baby was exactly that kind of programme. There are really only two types of drama: good ones and bad ones. Don’t Take My Baby was an exceptional one.
Coming from a channel that gets continual flak for the low standard of some of its output — although I’m no longer convinced the majority of what BBC3 shows is anywhere near as bad as some of what Channel 4 has been dredging up lately — Don’t Take My Baby fulfilled the original BBC remit to educate, inform and entertain better than anything else I’ve seen so far this year. In many ways it was a 21st-Century successor to vintage BBC social issues dramas like Cathy Come Home and Edna, the Inebriate Woman.
The issue here was the plight of parents with disabilities trying to care for their newborn babies. Every year the UK Children’s Services investigate some 11,000 disabled couples and pass judgement on whether they should be allowed to keep their children. And every year 3,000 of those children are taken away and put in the care of foster families.
Writer Jack Thorne (Skins, This is England) drew on factual testimony to tell the story of a young disabled couple’s agonising struggle to hold on to their baby daughter.
Twenty-one-year-old Anna, played by Ruth Madeley, has a rare muscle-wasting disease and uses a wheelchair (in reality, Madeley has spina bifida). Premature death is a given.
Her partner Tom (Happy Valley’s Adam Long) is partially sighted and his vision is steadily deteriorating. His condition, inherited from his father, will eventually render him completely blind.
Given the unenviable job of assessing whether Anna and Tom should keep their child is social worker Belinda, played by Wumni Osaku (Philomena, Dancing on the Edge).
Thorne’s script shows the vetting process as a succession of casual humiliations and intrusions. Social workers scrutinise Anna and Tom as they care for their baby in hospital; their every move, their every “mistake” is recorded by cameras.
When they bring the baby home, they live with the knowledge that Belinda will call by unannounced at any time. The normally insignificant minutiae of looking after a newborn — the clothes and toys lying around the floor, the unwashed dishes sitting in the sink — threaten to become black marks against their fitness to parent.
There was no phony sentimentality here; Anna and Tom aren’t painted as suffering saints. They have arguments, guilt and recriminations. At one point Tom storms out, leaving Anna lying face-down and helpless on the floor while the baby cries upstairs.
I confess to watching Don’t Take My Baby with a knot in my stomach. It’s one of the dramas of the year. And it came from BBC3. Who would have thought it?
Watch on BBC iPlayer