Stolen starring Damian Lewis, BBC1, PREVIEW

Rating ★★★★

BBC1, Sunday, 3 July, 9pm

From CrimeTimePreview

Plot twists, multiple murders, glamorous cops – you get none of these in this serious but emotional drama.

Child trafficking and slavery is the story here, and the writer, Stephen Butchard, clearly wants you to be aware of the crime and its attendant heartache going on all round us.

It follows detective inspector Anthony Carter, played by Damian Lewis, who tries to make a difference working at the Human Trafficking Unit. Part of the Unit's role is to sweep up kids who crash out of the trade, chased by gangmasters or gangsters. If he can find the victims, he then has a monumental job of trying to get them to help him arrest their exploiters.

Shoved into the boot of a BMW
Stolen gives a snapshot of three youngsters lost in this multi-billion dollar enterprise. Rosemary, who is perhaps 12 or so, arrives from Lagos with instructions to contact the man who will sell her on. Though Carter intercepts her and tries to place her with a carer, frustratingly she has been indoctrinated with a dread of a ju-ju curse and told to run away from policemen. She ends up as a domestic slave to an African family in Britain.

Georgie is from Russia. Though young, he is desperate to make his way after being sold to work for a gangmaster of immigrant labourers. The only problem is, after slogging away at all kinds of menial work, he is not paid.

And Kim Pak, who has been imprisoned to work in a marijuana factory, finally escapes to see the sun and breathe some air, only to be recaptured by his Vietnamese criminal boss and shoved into the boot of his BMW.

Gangster intimidates Carter's wife
The drama's strength is that it doesn't hit the viewer over the head with violence or brutality – the camera turns away from what little physical stuff there is. Its focus is purely on the children, who are bewildered, alone, exploited and barely able to articulate what's happening to them. They are lost.

Carter is desperate to help Rosemary and shut off just one small trickle of the slave racket. He even introduces his daughter, Ellie, to her in a bid to gain her trust – to the horror of his wife. 'What in the name of god are you playing at,' Alison says, and her fear that Carter could infect their home life with his work is borne out when a gangster calls round to intimidate her.

Damian Lewis as Carter
But the children feel dependent on their masters and wary of the cops, and Carter's job is difficult and dangerous.

Damian Lewis, who's had some big TV roles on both sides of the Atlantic in Band of Brothers, The Forsyte Saga and Life, is low-key and intense in this. But the most affecting performance is that of Inokentijs Vitkevics as Georgie, who goes from being elated on arrival in the UK, to howling in almost delirious rage when he is turfed out on the snowy streets.

The children's stories have diverse endings, from tragic to heartwarming. While this 90-minute film may be a bit earnest at times, it is a compelling drama. It may even stir one or two tear ducts at the end, which most crime dramas rarely do.

Damian Lewis DI Anthony Carter, Gloria Ayewumi Rosemary, Inokentijs Vitkevics Gerogie, Jessie Clayton Ellie Carter, Anna Krippa Russian woman, Iulia Iarova Russian girl, Cosima Shaw Alison Carter, Nonso Anozie Thomas Ekoku, Vicky McClure DC Manda Healy

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