Three Families reveals true tales of ‘abortion’

Many of the best TV dramas have been inspired by real life events.
Hannah and JonathanHannah and Jonathan
Hannah and Jonathan

Later this week, BBC Two will broadcast Danny Boy, which tells the story of soldier Brian Wood, whose actions during the Iraq war were controversially called into question.

But BBC One gets in on the act early with a new two-part series (it concludes on Tuesday) originally entitled When It Happens To You, which was first announced back in 2019, just as Northern Ireland was about to make a momentous alteration to one of its laws.

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In 1967, the Abortion Act was passed in the UK, making terminations legal. However, the province wasn’t included, and didn’t make the change to its own legislation for another 52 years.

“Growing up in Northern Ireland I was always aware of the heated debate surrounding the issue of abortion and this is a story I’ve wanted to tell for many years,” claims executive producer Susan Hogg. “Three Families goes behind the headlines to tell the true stories of women and girls and their loved ones who have been deeply affected by the law and some of those who worked to change it.

“I knew the law was different, but I had no idea what that really meant until I went to Northern Ireland and met some of the families involved,” adds writer Gwyneth Hughes, whose previous works include other true-life tales, including Cherished and The Girl. “I’ve been deeply touched by their experiences and feel honoured to be asked to share their stories. I think the contributors will all be moved, as I am, by the extraordinary truthfulness and emotional depth that these wonderful actors bring to their stories.”

Sinéad Keenan, Lola Petticrew, Amy James-Kelly, Genevieve O’Reilly, Colin Morgan, Owen McDonnell, Prasanna Puwanarajah and Kerri Quinn head the cast. They’ve been tasked with re-enacting what happened to real people; names and certain details have been changed to ensure the anonymity of those involved, but their experiences are true and often very moving indeed.

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The drama is already being hailed as the BBC’s next must-see show, and if its location is anything to go by, it certainly could be that. In the past year or so, the corporation has enjoyed success with various series set or filmed in Ireland, including Normal People, Bloodlands and, most recently, Line of Duty.

Three Families is very different in tone and subject matter, but it certainly continues a trend for top-class productions from across the Irish Sea. And thanks to the calibre of those involved, we’re expecting it to feature highly in next year’s awards ceremonies – although those behind it are more interested in highlighting an important issue than getting a pat on the back.

“Abortion is a complex and emotive subject, and it continues to divide opinion in Northern Ireland and elsewhere,” says Piers Wenger, director of BBC Drama. “Following months of detailed research, Gwyneth and the team will help audiences get an insight into how abortion law has affected many different women and their families. Their stories are powerful, personal and memorable.”

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