The Mighty Redcar is a shining example of the power of documentary television: Sweeping vistas of the North Yorkshire coast; industrial backdrops; engaging characters plucked from the 35,000 residents; real lives.
With Amazon Prime, an Unlimited Cineworld ticket, and a Todoist list competing with my inbox for most unticked items – it may seem strange that I’ve found time to indulge my documentary passion. But something in the BBC mailer caught my eye; a year in the life of a town and its residents. The Mighty Redcar is reality TV I can indulge in, away from the forced confrontation of Big Brother and Love Island, and away from the predictable ups and downs of competition TV with Strictly and X-Factor.
The Mighty Redcar is a documentary series spending one year in the life of a selected group of local individuals and families. We get to spend a year accompanying them in their lives; through the good times and the bad, through the GCSE results and the convictions.
You are immediately struck by the fantastic cinematography, with the opening sequence sweeping up and over the coastline, the industrial landscape, and down into the town to meet the unassuming stars of the show.
It’s in amongst these normal, everyday, folk of Redcar that we quickly realise that normal and every day mean entirely different things to them than they do to people who live elsewhere – with employment being one of the critical drivers of concern in the area.
The characters get introduced to you slowly and with great care, ensuring that you get to know each one individually and begin to map out in your mind how they all connect and interrelate together. It’s excellent casting by the researchers, and it feels delicately handled by the director and camera crew.
The editing is subtle and effective – it involves you in the story without feeling like you are being dragged forwards too quickly, or held dawdling too long.
It’s the real lives that capture our attention. This is not poverty-porn as witnessed in many factual TV series. This is observational soap-opera, with natural suspense and drama and not forced storylines. This is how it should be done.
There’s an image that stays with me, shown early in the series. A two-panel plywood gate, painted white and probably an entrance to a building site or disused lot. There’s nothing left around it, it’s a shiny white gate in a bleak landscape.
And yet, amongst the bleakness is humour. On the front of the doors a local resident has taken to some insightful graffiti: in scrawled red text – ‘Narnia’
Maybe that’s what keeps them going, hope that if they keep opening doors, then the promised land could be found just beyond the threshold. I hope it’s not just bleak snow without a lamppost in sight. I hope they achieve their dreams. Because thanks to the superb casting, direction, and cinematography – they all feel like family now.
Watch The Mighty Redcar on BBC Two or on the iPlayer – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bjj734