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Is This Coercive Control? | BBC | Rachael & Alex

Premiered on BBC One last night, documentary-drama 'Is This Coercive Control?' grabbed me in the gut, shook me and refused to let go. An hour-long study of Rachael and Alex - a fictional couple we meet three months into their relationship - their honeymoon period is short-lived, and the ensuing decline of said relationship makes for unsettling, albeit powerful viewing.

Initially, all was well between them - kisses, wine, gifts and giggles aplenty. Within hours of Alex declaring his love for Rachael, however, we cut to a nightclub scene. It is here we see our first [mild] red flag. "Who's that you were chatting to?" asks Alex, referring to Rachael's workmate, who, I assume, he feels threatened by.

Jack Hickey as Alex & Sophie Harkness as Rachael | Is This Coercive Control? | BBC
Jack Hickey as 'Alex' & Sophie Harkness as 'Rachael' | Is This Coercive Control? | BBC

From this point onwards, their relationship deteriorates, circumstances change and abuse soon emerges. Or does it?

The format of this docu-drama is inspired, because watching along with us, are 20 young adults, all aged 18-25. At various intervals throughout the hour, they're invited to share their thoughts on Alex and Rachael's behaviour. The format's brilliance lies in how polarising the depicted behaviours turn-out to be - as we, the viewers at home, hear drastically opposing views from the group.

Is This Coercive Control? | BBC | Rachael & Alex
Is This Coercive Control? | BBC | Rachael & Alex

Throughout the drama, the prevailing question put to the group is, "Is this coercive control?" Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation used by one person to exert power, control or coercion over another. Made a criminal offence in 2015, succesful prosecutions carry a maximum sentence of 5 years, a fine or both.

This docu-drama has sparked strong debate on Twitter, so a few hours ago, the programme's host Ellie Flynn and I jumped onto instagram for a live chat. Among our many talking points, we speculate over why the 20 contributors had such varied opinions and chew-over what, on a society level, this might tell us.

Watch Ellie and I chat here

Watch 'Is This Coercive Control?' here

Interview highlights:

  • How Ellie feels about making her tenth BBC documentary (02:23)

  • Who is Ellie Flynn? (05:40)

  • REVEALED: Ellie's Top 3 docs (06:50)

  • Ellie on how it felt to NOT go undercover for a change (08:20)

  • Ellie on the lead actors: Jack Hickey & Sophie Harkness (10:10)

  • Ellie discusses the group of 20 contributors (13:09)

  • Ellie outlines how the group of 20 were brought onboard (21:40)

  • Ellie on the group's differing opinions (25:40)

  • Ellie responds to Twitter comments (29:00)

  • REVEALED: Secrets of the lush mansion (35:50)

  • Why Ellie's mum isn't impressed (37:20)

  • Where victims of coercive control can get help (38:40)

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