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Ackley Bridge is a new drama that first premiered on Channel 4 on June 7th 2017, with its last episode of the first series airing on July 12th.
If this is the first time you’re hearing of Ackley Bridge, you could draw similarities with BBC’s Waterloo Road which ended back in 2015. The difference is that the school in which the drama is set, is a merger of two previously separate schools; one of which was predominantly White, and the other consisting of South Asian pupils. We are presented with some familiar faces (both from the BBC): Jo Joyner (famous for her portrayal of Tanya Branning in EastEnders) plays the Head Teacher of the school, and Adil Ray (known for his role as the titular character in the sitcom Citizen Khan) plays a wealthy businessman who is also the school’s sponsor.
Set in a Yorkshire Mill town, the drama deals with issues faced by both communities; by showing how the two sides face hardships individually, and alongside each other. Essentially the school is an integration project, which aims to send out messages of encouragement and optimism to its audience; that communities worlds apart are capable of co-existing harmoniously. For example, we are shown prior to their rugby match, players from both communities perform a short dance featuring dhols (South Asian drums). The show also focuses on the teachers who are an integral part of the school, drawing on past and new relationships.
The creators of Ackley Bridge are not afraid to cross boundaries, addressing sensitive topics such as extramarital affairs, sexual orientation, and single-parenting in both communities; drawing attention to real life struggles which are sometimes considered too ‘taboo’ to be discussed. One of the creators of the show is Ayub Khan-Din who is recognised for his highly acclaimed play turned film, East is East (1999) which also dealt with issues of a similar nature to Ackley Bridge. It tells the story of a Muslim Pakistani immigrant, his Christian English wife and their children; it shows the struggles of growing up multiracial during the seventies as the children identify, as more British than Pakistani. Therefore, it is no surprise that Khan-Din alongside his two co-creators, Malcolm Campbell and Kevin Erlis, were able to come up with the riveting series like Ackley Bridge.
As mentioned above, the show deals with ‘taboo’ topics, that are important at continuing the conversation about multiculturalism in Britain, and the differences that are not overtly discussed. Audiences who may be experiencing something similar to the characters are reminded that they’re not the only ones in the situation, which may help them to feel more confident and comfortable in their own skin. For those who don’t resonate with the characters’ experiences, Ackley Bridge serves as a reminder to show them that not everyone is the same, and that these cultural differences make Britain the melting pot that it is. Using both White and South Asian protagonists shows how the creators are using two sides of a story to produce a new mainstream narrative of British lives. This is progressive at breaking the stereotypes usually portrayed, and gives a voice to those marginalised in society.
The drama’s positive reception has prompted Channel 4 to commission a second series made up of twelve episodes, set to air in 2018. Be sure to look out for it next year!