Photo: BBC

Is it right to create a TV drama on the Grenfell Tower fire?

Driving along the M4 into London, the burnt-out husk of the Grenfell tower block remains fully in view (give or take a couple of hasty canvas attempts to cover the building). It sits there in silence, an eery and tragic figure; a charred reminder of death, suffering and our society’s failure.

In the nearby Westfield shopping centre, the scene is visible from one of the windows; or at least it would be if it hadn’t been conveniently covered up by a reprehensible mix of adverts and tarpaulins. God forbid its rich customers having to catch a glimpse of the suffering of the destitute! This is just a microcosm of a country trying to consciously forget and ignore. It’s from this societal outlook bordering on cultural censorship – where in the months following the tragedy we seem to have blissfully forgotten its causes, the event itself, or even the 123 families still living in emergency accommodation – that one man has come forward to say that television holds the solution.

Thorne envisions a TV dramatisation of the disaster

That man: Jack Thorne, the BAFTA-winning writer behind TV drama National Treasure. One might expect his solution to be a documentary to shed light on the tragedy of Grenfell, or maybe some investigative report on the ongoing enquiry.  In reality, Thorne envisioned a TV dramatisation of the disaster – his speciality.

His argument isn’t entirely illogical either. In a society where we seem to be trying to delete Grenfell from our public consciousness as much as is physically possible, a TV drama that brings in audiences and makes the suffering of the residents more real for us (in so far as it is more ‘in our faces’) isn’t necessarily bad. If there was anyone writing a dramatisation of the Grenfell disaster, you’d want it to be Jack Throne. His writing for National Treasure, a drama miniseries on another hard-hitting issue – the historical sex abuse scandal – adeptly yet carefully dealt with the controversial subject matter.

Its traumatic influence is still fresh on the minds of those who suffered 

That said, it still seems like an awful idea. For one, there is the standout argument that, having just passed the six month mark, it is simply too soon. Its traumatic impact is still fresh on the minds of those who suffered through it and, more importantly, without any finality from the inquiry into the disaster, nobody has enough information about what actually happened. In the case of using Operation Yewtree as a subject, not only had an excessive amount of time passed since the events, but there was also far more information available for prospective filmmakers. Maybe I’m being pedantic, but I think the facts should be completely straight before they are dramatized.

But most importantly, I would ask whether it is in any way acceptable for one man’s desire to win more awards or make more money for another hit drama miniseries to be framed as some altruistic service to the state. Call me a cynic, but I don’t know if the suffering of those at Grenfell should be employed as a means to an end for Jack Thorne’s ego, or worse, his wallet. Maybe, in time, a drama might be acceptable but let’s not kid ourselves; as great as television is, it isn’t changing the real world in the way that Thorne believes this Grenfell drama supposedly would. Fights for justice for the dead of the Hillsborough disaster, soldiers lost in Iraq, or even the victims of historical sex abuse scandal (among so many others), were never and will be never won because of a television show. National Treasure didn’t arrest any paedophiles, give voices to any victims or institute any legislation. Yes it brought exposure, but exposure isn’t everything – in fact, often it accounts for very little in actual terms. Whether this is bad taste or a genuine opportunity to discuss the horror of Grenfell, there’s no point pretending it’s going to change the world.


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