At the heart of the drama lies Miriam, played by BAFTA and RTS award-winner Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax), an experienced, no-nonsense social worker who loves and believes in her job, but has a maverick and instinctive approach to protecting the children in her care.
Miriam arranges for Kiri to have an unsupervised visit with her biological grandparents. But when Kiri disappears during the visit, the fingers of suspicion and blame from the police, the press, and even her colleagues, point firmly at Miriam.
As the media spotlight around the story intensifies, Miriam, as well as both sets of families, are forced to ask the toughest questions, not just of themselves, but of each other.
We caught up with Sarah...
Your new drama is Kiri – could you explain a little bit about the show and who you play?
I play Miriam. She’s a rather colourful character. She’s a social worker. She’s somewhat mischievous. She likes to unsettle people with her directness and earthiness. But she’s also brilliantly flawed, as are most of the best characters to play. She’s really striving to do good in an imperfect world, whilst carrying her own demons, which is very much part of the human condition. It’s what makes these characters live and breathe. She has a defiance, a very strong purpose, a need to do good in society. But she also works very instinctively, she uses her intuition, but in this instance it leads to a catastrophic end.
Can you explain a little bit about where we find Miriam at the beginning of the story?
She makes a decision to allow one of the youngsters that she’s in charge of, Kiri, to visit her paternal grandparents, unchaperoned. It’s a decision taken with all parties’ agreement, and borne out of the fact that her adoption is pending. All things considered, Miriam feels it is a safe situation. But it quickly becomes clear that this decision has devastating consequences, the effects of which are explored in in the series.
The series explores a harrowing and difficult subject matter – does that attract you to a project, or make you more cautious about it?
To be honest, neither. I can tell very early on, reading a script, within six or seven pages, whether I’m looking at real people, and whether I can see and hear real people. Very often it’s not the subject matter that’s the draw, but how it’s dealt with.
So what was it that attracted you to Kiri?
Well, without a doubt it was one of the best scripts I’ve read in a very long time. I think Jack Thorne is an exceptional writer. This piece is very real, and very raw, and it was also colourful and edgy. It just had a heartbeat. It was leaping off the page, to be honest. I suppose those are the pieces that I’m drawn to, those are the pieces that I want to do, really, because I can do something with them.
Had you worked with Jack Thorne before?
No. In fact, I think we met, briefly, many, many, many years ago, but we’d never worked together. But of course I was aware of his work, because he’s up there with the best. You kind of always hope that something of his work will come your way, and it did. I was very fortunate in that sense.
Did you do much research?
I spoke briefly to Jack about it, because his mother worked in the caring professions. But there’s very little that one can do, in terms of research, in this instance, because it’s such an individual piece.
Much of your work over the years has been extremely intense, not least this and Happy Valley. Are you good at switching off at the end of the day’s filming? Or do you carry it with you?
Well, you can’t switch off at the end of the day’s filming, because there’s work to do. We don’t do nine-to-five jobs. You do long days filming, and then you go back and start preparing for tomorrow or the rest of the week. Doing pieces like this is very demanding, you have to learn in the evenings. If you’re leading a piece, the night time is just work time. So there’s no opportunity to switch off.
Kiri is on Wednesday, January 10 at 9pm on Channel 4