This three-part drama does the only appropriate thing: tells the tale of the victims’ tragedy. It makes for relentlessly sad viewing
Josef Davies as Chris Brown, who was murdered by Raoul Moat, and Sally Messham as Samantha Stobbart, whom Moat wounded. Photograph: ITV
As much as Raoul Moat dominated the headlines back in the summer of 2010, nearly 13 years later many of our memories of the events are fuzzy. But as ITV’s miniseries remind us, even the version we were fed then was made murkier by the media and the internet. The narrative around Moat framed him as something of a dark vigilante, with a vendetta against the police and an unlikely friendship with Paul Gascoigne, who showed up at the standoff offering to defuse the situation with chicken, lager and a fishing rod. But in a heady mix of misogyny, media sensationalism and good old-fashioned misanthropy, even as events unfolded Moat’s victims – Chris Brown, Samantha Stobbart and David Rathband – were cast as bit players in the tale of a supposed antihero.
The show begins a year after the shooting, when people gather and lay flowers saying, “We’re here because Raoul Moat is a hero to us”, before flashing back to the previous summer.
Samantha is lying in the sunshine in Birtley, Gateshead, flirting with charming karate instructor Chris. The two tentatively form a bond, with Chris having the sort of openness and kindness that Samantha can scarcely believe exists in the world. But Samantha is getting increasingly nervous as her ex-boyfriend, who is in prison serving a four-month sentence for assaulting a nine-year-old, is due to be released in a matter of days.
Moat doesn’t appear until midway through the first episode, filmed from behind, gliding through the prison with the unfeeling menace of a shark. Remembering even the scantest details of what happens next makes the first episode almost unbearably sad – knowing that so many people’s lives are about to be ruined by this man, and failed further in the terrible days that followed.
It is made all the more upsetting by Josef Davies and Sally Messham’s heartfelt performances as Chris and Samantha respectively. The violence enacted upon them isn’t salaciously depicted, but it is intensely felt. The role of Moat is given to Matt Stokoe – best known for supporting turns in the BBC’s Musketeers series and Channel 4’s superhero satire Misfits – who manages to make Moat terrifying without creating the sort of Hannibal Lecter magnetism where his cruelty has a camp thrill about it. But the show mostly centres on the narrative of Lee Ingleby’s Neil Adamson, the detective who led the investigation and had to bring Moat and his collaborators to justice amid intense, and frequently unhinged, public scrutiny.
By the end of the first episode most of the violence has been committed, and grief hangs heavy over the remainder. But the series wisely does not concern itself with why Moat did what he did. Instead it focuses on the ramifications of his actions for innocent people – and how they were underserved by those tasked with protecting them, as well as journalists who cared more about headlines than people’s lives.
While the programme is admirable in its commitment to not sensationalising Moat’s brutality, and sticking with the human story at its core, it makes for a hard watch. So much of what we are shown, from a lack of journalistic integrity to online support for an abusive man, may be incredibly bleak, but it’s also sadly not as shocking as the programme seems to believe. At one point a character reads a comment from the “Raoul Moat You Legend!” Facebook page: “If my missus did to me what that bitch did to Raoul I hope I’d be brave enough to do what he’s done!” and that feels depressingly mild compared to what would probably be trending on TikTok were this happening today.
The series determinedly reframes the narrative that was established back in 2010 and battles to not be part of the 24-hour news media circus that swept the nation 13 years ago. But in some respects it becomes a tad finger-wagging and sanctimonious given that the show is technically also profiting from the tragedy. It strives to walk as respectful a line as possible but, as is the case with all true crime programming, some ethical considerations and questions aren’t easily answered.
It is easy to admire the technical aspects of the direction and performances, and to feel that the show’s cold, desaturated palette further enhances the seriousness with which it takes its horrific subject matter. Paul Gascoigne’s antics are barely glanced at, and tragedy is at the fore. While unrelenting bleakness is not necessarily the way to make the greatest of television, it will, at least, extinguish any ideas that Raoul Moat was a hero to anyone.