Thursday, December 29, 2022

Maxine, on BritBox

Everyone reaches a point where they decide they have to start acting like grown-ups and accept responsibility. For most people, that is the time when they start showing up to work on-time and paying their bills. Maxine Ann Carr faced this crossroads when the police started suspecting her fiancée, Ian Huntley had abducted and murdered two ten-year-old girls in Soham. The vast majority of the British public following the case would argue Carr arrived at her turning earlier, when she knowingly provided Huntley a false alibi and therefore bears some moral and legal culpability as an accomplice after the fact. Writer Simon Tyrrell tries to maintain some ambiguity during the three-part Maxine, which is probably why so many British viewers hated it. Be that as it may, Maxine premieres for American audiences tomorrow on BritBox.

The working-class Huntley somewhat swept Carr off her feet, but he quickly showed his abusive and controlling true nature. Nevertheless, Carr remained loyal to him, largely accepting his evasive excuses regarding his past legal troubles. Somehow, he managed to get a caretaker (janitorial/maintenance) position at a Soham school, because his background check was never carried out, due to bureaucratic snafus. Carr also found employment as a teacher’s assistant, since she had a clean record.

Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells were two of the girls she helped teach, so maybe she really was as upset by the news of their abduction as she presented to the world. She had been out-of-town when they were abducted, but she agreed to pretend otherwise, thereby alibiing Huntley. Initially, Tyrrell and director Laura Way lead us to suggest she genuinely believed he was innocent, but legitimately concerned he would be scapegoated because of his record. However, his dodgy behavior just gets progressively more and more suspicious.

Neither the victims nor their grieving families appear in
Maxine in any dramatically substantial way. That does mean they are not Tyrrell’s focus, but it also somewhat limits the intrusive gawking Nevertheless, the limited-series clearly has some degree of sympathy for Carr, consciously portraying her as a victim of abuse. For what its worth, Huntley looks absolutely irredeemable right from the start and only gets worse as time goes on.

In retrospect, local journalist Brian Farmer, who acts as the conscience of the series, probably should have been its central figure and protagonist. Ironically, he guilt-trips a bottom-feeding London tabloid reporter for exactly the sort of sensationalistic exploitation the
Maxine series has been ripped for.

Regardless, Steve Edge is terrific as Farmer. He has one scene late in the series answering “as a parent how would you feel” questions that the producers should be sending to awards committees. In her screen debut, Jemma Carlton is weirdly unnerving portraying Carr as an infantilized waif, apparently mired in a state of arrested maturity. Scott Reid basically plays Huntley as a thug, with little-to-no subtlety or complexity.

The Soham Murders took place in 2002, but it obviously was still “too soon” for a look of critics. Way builds the drip-drip-drip closing-in tension fairly dexterously and Farmer is a standout, but the lack of strong police characters detracts from the satisfaction of the police procedural work. It is also hard to get past the depressing implications. Maybe not as scandalous as some suggest,
Maxine still simply isn’t sufficiently entertaining to recommend when it starts streaming tomorrow (12/30) on BritBox.