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Remote control: coercive control storylines in dramas

National and global awareness of coercive control and its effect on victims and their families has been helped by both TV drama and movie storylines that shine a light on emotional forms of abuse. LGFL Financial Director Anne Leiper, a long-time fan of “The Archers”, explores the storylines that have hit the headlines.

Many people consider the world of the BBC Radio 4 series “The Archers” to be the epitome of cosy countryside chatter. However, I clearly remember standing in my kitchen in 2016 shouting at the radio, saying “Get out woman, just go!”, as a slow burn two-year storyline reached its dramatic conclusion.

The systematic abuse of fictional husband Rob Titchener on his then-pregnant wife Helen had been a sustained campaign of physical, mental and sexual abuse. His wife eventually stabbed him whilst defending herself from a violent attack, but then had the trauma of standing trial for attempted murder.

Rob, described in one review as “master manipulator (and) abuser expert in gaslighting behaviour” later returned to Ambridge to further torment Helen, before the character was finally put into his grave last year.

 

Coercive control and abuse is not fiction

For us here at LGFL, and probably for every family and divorce lawyer in the UK, this storyline is not fiction. It’s reality. We deal with cases of domestic abuse against both women and men in all its forms. Every month, we help victims extract themselves and their children from abusive relationships. We have a particular reputation for expertise in cases of post-separation abuse that had continued long after partners have separated and even divorced.

I will admit, the details of these cases are often harrowing and disturbing. However, that only increases our determination to bring the relationship to an end, and fight for the victim’s right to a life free from fear, control and financial constraints.

 

All the main TV soaps have also taken on abusive relationship storylines including:

  • Gray and Chantelle Atkins in “Eastenders”
  • Yasmeen and husband Geoff in “Coronation Street”, with a focus on financial abuse issues that extended after Geoff’s death
  • Belle Dingle and her controlling new husband Tom King in “Emmerdale” (new in 2024)

Interviewed by the Radio Times, “Emmerdale” producer Laura Shaw said:

"Soaps are in the extraordinary position of being able to highlight what happens behind the public face of an abusive relationship, over a longer period of time … As harrowing as it can be to watch this type of storyline play out, it’s imperative that we use our platform to shine a light on domestic abuse, and help give a voice to people who have so often been silenced."

 

Dramas with coercive control at their core

The TV series “Angela Black”, starring Joanne Froggatt of “Downton Abbey” fame, lifted the lid on a seemingly idyllic marriage to reveal the physical and emotional abuse that lay beneath. The team worked with abuse charity Women’s Aid to advise on the psychology behind coercive control and emotional abuse.

As director Craig Viveiros explained to Harper’s Bazaar:

"What (husband) Olivier does is so disturbing; it's the gaslighting, the mind games... And being the victim of those facets of abuse, which not everyone has understanding of, that makes the victim question who they are and gives them this sense of persistent self-doubt, which again is the type of abuse that is so common.”

Other TV series have taken on the challenge of portraying abuse, including Sharon Horgan’s “Bad Sisters” and Channel 4’s “I Am Nicola”.

 

Hollywood and abusive storylines

The 2023 film “Alice, Darling” broke new ground for Hollywood with the story of 30-year-old successful woman Alice becoming trapped in a coercive relationship with the charming Simon.

It was a major departure for actress Anna Kendrick, best known for lighter comedies such as “Pitch Perfect”. British director Mary Nighy (daughter of actor Bill Nighy and actress Diana Quick) drew on real life experiences of an abusive relationship in writing the film:

“Because it’s such a recently diagnosed and understood and spoken about form of abuse, I think there was an anxiety about whether or not it could carry the film. And I think absolutely it can … It’s worthwhile everybody questioning the power dynamics that they employ in their relationships … The film’s meant to unnerve people a little bit. And pose questions.”

 

Domestic abuse against men

The one area that modern dramas seem reluctant to address is stories involving male victims of domestic abuse and coercive control. According to the Office for National Statistics for 2021/22:

  • One in three of all victims of domestic abuse are men
  • One in six men will be a victim in their lifetime

Any drama writers looking for inspiration should read our two articles:

There are more real-life stories at:

 

Concerned about coercive control?

Whether you are being abused, controlled or know someone who may be, we can and will help.

At LGFL, we have dealt with multiple cases of separation and divorces involving domestic violence, abuse and coercive control. We listen with empathy and give pragmatic advice to help you extract yourself from your situation. Our approach is the same regardless of age and gender, married or cohabiting.

Contact us in complete confidence to book your initial consultation:

- Call us

- Email us

- Request your initial 1-hour reduced fee advice session