In the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, we’ve witnessed news stories pertaining to historic sexual abuse cases, and the way in which money, intimidation and clout have been wielded by power players to ensure misdemeanours never reach the public domain. Now, a new four-part drama examines the impact on the victim and their family when a financial settlement is agreed in return for their silence.
Dark Mon£y tells the story of the Mensahs, a working-class family from London whose young son Isaac (Max Fincham) is plucked from obscurity to star in a major new Hollywood movie.
On his return from America, he reveals to his parents that he was abused by a world famous producer, and the drama explores what happens when his parents, Manny (Babou Ceesay) and Sam (Jill Halfpenny), agree to a substantial pay-off and the enduring repercussions it has on the family.
“In celebrity culture there are a lot of stories of pay-offs, where parents have come out and said something’s happened to my child - and then all of a sudden the story disappears because of an out-of-court settlement. And we never hear about the family or the case again,” says the writer Levi David Addai who also penned the acclaimed BBC feature-length drama Damilola, Our Loved Boy.
“Being a writer, I thought, if this is true, that they received money and didn’t pursue charges anymore, where are they now? What’s going on now in the dynamics of that family, especially if it was a huge pay-off where the parents don’t have to work anymore and can live off the money they’ve been given. Even though the money could be used for the kids’ future, it’s still the dark money. I just had questions for myself and I thought these would be good questions for the audience.”
The drama reunites Levi with Babou, who received a BAFTA nomination in 2017 for his role as Damilola Taylor’s father Richard.
“What Dark Mon£y does, which I love, is that it doesn’t try to make a political statement. Rather, we’re going to say, here’s a family, here’s a relatable child, and within that framework, what is the impact?” says the actor.
“Manny has built a massive lie around his life and the lie is very simple: if I just sit still and just keep everything at bay, everything will be okay. And he carries that on until there’s literally nowhere left to hide. Then he realises the only way out is to be truthful, and worst of all, to be truthful with himself.”
We see that also involves facing up to the true nature of his relationship with Isaac’s older sister Jess, and his other son, Tyrone, from a previous relationship.
“There’s so much, relationship-wise, going on in the family setting - things unsaid, things not done. And I thought, as awful as this sounds, the abuse is almost outside of that. It just becomes this massive light on what love actually exists in this family, just among themselves,” says Babou.
In the opening episode, Manny, Sam and Isaac are hosting a pool party in their palatial home. To the outsider, it looks as if they’re living a dream life, but it becomes clear that each of them is struggling with an inner turmoil, and none of them are talking about it.
The action moves back a year, to Manny picking Isaac up from the airport and driving to the London estate where there’s a welcome home party in Isaac’s honour. The family’s struggling financially but seemingly content, and excited by the prospect of Isaac’s burgeoning Hollywood career.
That same evening, Isaac reveals the video he took of the abuse he suffered at the hands of producer Jotham Starr, and so begins the devastated family’s confusion as to what to do next. Sam seeks legal advice, Manny tentatively contacts an investigative journalist, and they both meet with Isaac’s on set chaperone Cheryl Dennon (Rebecca Front), who’s shocked by the revelation but whose knowledge of events is ambiguous. Was she an enabler? Did she turn a blind eye? Was she entirely ignorant of truth? These are just some of the questions you’ll be asking yourself, including whether Manny and Sam, beneath the detached glare of Starr’s legal team, are right to accept the vast sum of hush money they’re offered.
Dark Mon£y is one of the first dramas to explore what life might be like for the victims and families behind recent headlines, and the subject matter is sensitively tackled by Levi and director Lewis Arnold, who’s previously worked on Broadchurch and Humans.
There are poignant performances all-round, particularly from Max Fincham who’s tasked with playing a young lad trying to enjoy life beneath the weight of his experiences.
As episode one draws to a close and we return to present day, the camera pans out on the Mensah’s mansion that looms as large as the dark reality the family now find themselves in. With three more episodes to go, it’ll be a fascinating insight into how justice might be sought, and what toll it takes.
Dark Mon£y begins on BBC One on Monday, July 8