Broadcast and Secret Life

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TX - Secret Life
Jane Hoskyn

A Matthew Macfadyen-fronted C4 drama is challenging
the accepted view of paedophiles
TX: Secret life
Broadcaster: Channel 4
Producer: Kudos
Start: 19 April, 9pm
Length: 1 x 80 minutes
Commissioner: Liza Marshall
If you were to bet on the next role for the reigning
Mr Darcy, you probably wouldn't plump for a
paedophile. Mr Darcy is a handsome gent who makes the
ladies swoon; a "paedo" is an oddball bogeyman. Right?

Not necessarily. The casting of Pride and Prejudice
leading man Matthew Macfadyen as a child abuser is
precisely the point of Channel 4's one-off drama
Secret Life. "The character of Charlie was written and
cast against type to challenge preconceptions," says
producer Madonna Baptiste. "Not all paedophiles are
sweaty older men who live with their mums and work out
in the garage."
Macfadyen is on screen for every one of the film's 80
minutes, as we follow Charlie from prison release to
rehab and, when the centre is closed by protesters, to
an outside world where he struggles to silence his
On one level, Secret Life is Macfadyen's film. His
compelling performance leaves the viewer stranded
between revulsion for the crime and empathy for the
shy, attractive man. But Charlie's real creator is
Rowan Joffe, a relative newcomer who embarked upon
this labour of love five years ago after seeing a
silhouette on the news.
"The interviewee was a convicted paedophile whose
rehab centre was closing," says Joffe. "He was scared
that he'd be a threat to children, and it really
troubled him." Joffe had never previously given
paedophilia much thought but the self-awareness of
this ostensible monster struck him as a starting point
for a script.
Joffe's 2001 anthrax drama Gas Attack received an
Edinburgh Film Festival award and a Bafta nomination,
and it was this success that emboldened him to take
his new idea to C4's Tessa Ross. Ross commissioned it
immediately but development then slowed to a
three-year slog, during which Ross handed over to Liza
Marshall. Luckily, Marshall is a pal of Joffe's. The
pair worked on an unfilmed "experimental" script with
Alex Garland, who wrote the film 28 Days Later.
Joffe also got an immediate "yes" from his first
choice of executive producer, Jane Featherstone at
Kudos. Secret Life is a departure from Featherstone's
mainstream bankers, Life on Mars, Hustle and Spooks,
but she wasn't fazed by the highly charged subject
matter or by a young screenwriter full of impertinent
"Rowan was about to start a whole new draft when he
said: 'You know what, I'd love to direct this,'" says
Featherstone. "He'd never directed a second of
anything but the script was written so directorially
that he was sort of the only person who could do it.
On paper it's a risk but he's a natural."
And well he might be, growing up with Oscars on the
mantelpiece. But the son of Roland Joffe, who directed
The Mission and The Killing Fields, is no movie brat
with a mouthful of Hollywood silver spoons. He claims
to "lack the intellectual clout" to think of a better
word than "controversial" to describe Secret Life and
he's not one to suck up. "Our industry favours the
director as the ultimate talent, and that's not
accurate or fair. I've done both jobs and believe that
the writer is a film's true author."
As director, Joffe rose to the occasion, deftly
juggling Secret Life's child actors, night shoots and
a deafening south London waltzer.
Casting was easier than might have been expected,
given the subject matter. "Quite a few top actors"
wanted to play Charlie, according to Baptiste, who
won't name names. Spooks star Macfadyen was suggested
by Featherstone, and he signed up enthusiastically
after an overnight read of the script. TV
veterans Phil Davis, who plays Rudi, another inmate of
Charlie's at the rehab centre, and Holly Aird, who
plays Charlie's counsellor, also needed little
Even casting Michaela, the 12-year-old who tests
Charlie's demons during the film's tense second half,
was relatively simple. "Working with kids is
intimidating for any director," says Joffe. "You won't
always get the performances you want. I was so lucky
with Yasmin [Paige] – she shone throughout the casting

The film was shot on location in London, including at
a Crystal Palace funfair. "It's hard to record against
all that music and machinery," says Joffe. "We
couldn't afford to hire the fair, so we filmed the
dialogue scenes by day when there weren't many people
around. For the night scenes, the fair owners lent us
some rides before moving off to a new location."
The sense-assaulting fair is a shock after the
preceding 70 minutes, in which director of photography
David Odds uses daylight to bring out facial nuances
and to create a naturalistic, everyday feel. Editor
Colin Monie kept as much natural light as possible and
gung-ho cuts were out – this was not a story told in
the edit suite.
Composer Max de Wardener also adopted a subtle
approach. Many viewers, deafened by movie histrionics,
may not notice any music at all. "That's a good
thing," says Liza Marshall. "The brief was not to
overscore it or be manipulative. We wanted the
audience to make up their own minds."
Some viewers will maintain that paedophilia, even when
it has a face like Darcy's, should be 'discussed' only
with the use of vigilantes' baseball bats – a view
that pops up in Joffe's film. "I just hope it opens a
debate," says Baptiste.
"I've got a two-year-old child and can't think of
anything worse [than paedophilia] but this film is
about Charlie's struggle to be good. It's an extreme
example of a universal experience."