Last night’s Consent, (TV One), had a fair few chilling, skin-crawling scenes, but one of the most affecting was when we saw rape complainant Louise Nicholas and her daughter having coffee on their hotel balcony during the trial.
Down in the street, a paddy wagon is leaving the High Court across the road. Nicholas tells her daughter the passengers are two of the three former policeman rape defendants, already in prison for gang-raping another woman.
It was a badly-kept secret, but an officially enforced and defended one, and remains one of the nastiest stains on justice in this country’s history. Which is why a well-made dramatisation like Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story is money and effort superbly well-spent. Nicholas’ story shows us how far we needed to evolve in the way we approach rape complaints at official and personal levels, while subliminally freighting the message that we should never take a beady eye off this particular ball again. A powerfully told true story like this illustrates with visceral clarity how much easier it is and always will be for everyone concerned not to do the right thing.
Michelle Blundell did a note- perfect job of portraying the young woman whose life was blighted both by vile individual officers, and their in-the-know colleagues who turned a blind eye.
Perhaps the cleverest portrayal, though, was Mark Mitchinson’s of John Dewar, the senior officer who, while appearing to support and help Louise, in fact was found to have perverted the course of justice to protect his institution against her.
Deft acting and scripting meant the viewer could see without needing to have it spelt out in dialogue how deeply conditioned and conflicted Dewar was about where his duty lay. On paper what he did was monstrous, yet this was not obviously a monster.
The programme left us with the sense that Nicholas, like us, will never know the enigmatic Dewar’s true nature. A nod is also due to the show’s portrayal of Dominion Post journalist Phil Kitchin – brusque, uningratiating, relentless and meticulous. A reporter with a tiger by the tail, weighing up whether the risk of his project could ever justify the potential damage of making a bad situation worse.
Seeing the story in a compact sequential form like this makes it the more of a wonder Kitchin and Nicholas even embarked on this process. Despite the court acquittal, they proved their case to the outraged and grateful satisfaction of the public, and the establishment.
We can only celebrate again that they did, courtesy of this TV masterclass in how to approach a story of the most brutal realities with sensitivity.
– The Dominion Post