REVIEW: BBC’s One Child tells the story of many
The title of last night’s drama as part of BBC Two’s Chinese season refers to China’s one child policy, which was introduced as a population control strategy in 1979. This policy resulted in countless baby girls being abandoned, ‘dumped’ by many Chinese families at the doorsteps of orphanages in China, as baby boys were the preferred sex.
One such baby was Mei, the lead character in the drama played by Katie Leung (Cho Chang from the Harry Potter film series). Mei lives in England having been adopted by a British father and an American mother. She’s at university studying Astrophysics when she’s contacted by a journalist from China, telling her that her biological mother in Guangzhou is trying to get in touch with her as she desperately needs her help.
It transpires that Mei has a younger brother in China who has been sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Mei decides to fly out to China by herself to meet the family whom she previously knew nothing of. We watched with increasing disquiet as this young student tried to navigate her way in a world of corruption and bribery that was completely alien to her conservative British upbringing.
There was a heart-wrenchingly poignant moment when her birth mother tried to explain to an unreceptive and understandably stand-offish Mei how and why she had to give her up as a baby. This low key, subdued moment minus histrionics created a very moving moment between birth mother and child, and we cannot help but think of the real women in China who had to face the same heartbreaking situation as the character in the drama. This scene must have created a stab in the hearts of mothers watching, especially when she presented Mei with a lock of her baby hair that she had kept and treasured over the years. The reporter who was acting as interpreter between the two had to step outside to compose herself on listening to the story; a clever move by the director.
The line between fictional drama and real life was almost completely blurred as one was swept along by the emotion of the storytelling. Tears flowed on screen, but they were quiet ones as they seeped through to the audience by osmosis via the screen. Kudos to the director and the actors here in downplaying this powerful moment of the healing of long held internal wounds.
Mei met her brother in prison and vowed to help him in any way she could. We found out that her brother was framed and the people involved were rich and had powerful connections including senior police officials. Her birth family were poor and had no connections. How was she, a young British student, going to help her brother against such a great force of corrupt officialdom? I am eager to see how the plot develops in several directions. Will she manage to save her brother? Will she remain safe in China? Will she ever forgive her mother for giving her away? Will she be able to return to her quiet life in England? Hopefully the writers will answer these questions in the coming episodes.
Part 2/3 of One Child airs 9pm next Wednesday (February 24th) on BBC Two.