Note: The following contains discussion of sexual misconduct that some readers may find upsetting.
When Sam, a ruthless manager at the head of a family-run business, walks into work to find a dead body in the reception, everything falls apart from there. In a star-studded cast led by Maxine Peake (Sam), new BBC One thriller Rules of the Game sets up a complex plot full of deceit, discrimination and denial as Sam and the rest of the business attempt to get to the bottom of the brutal murder.
As an investigation is launched, Sam clashes with the new HR director Maya (Rakhee Thakrar), who is forcing the business to come to terms with its ‘lad culture’ and attitude toward women. In short, it’s a company reckoning with institutionalised misogyny in the workplace.
BAFTA-nominated actress Maxine Peake and Rakhee Thakrar (Sex Education) star alongside Alison Steadman, Susan Wokoma and Ben Batt (Scott and Bailey) to bring the drama to life.
As the layers of this story are unpicked, many elements will ring true for women across the country – so is the latest BBC drama based on a true story?
In short, no. The premise of the plot itself is based on a fictional character and story, but the undercurrent of the plot is strongly based in truth, and in particular, the #MeToo movement.
As creator of the four-part drama, Ruth Fowler explained on her website: “A month after my play bled for the household truth closed, I got a call. Would I like to write a British-based TV series about the abuse of women in the workplace, loosely based on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, but packaged in a BBC1 Sunday-night thriller format? I was broke so I said yes.”
The #MeToo movement, which caused institutions to reflect and take action on the safety of women in the workplace, has been the centre of inspiration for many TV and films since. From Margot Robbie’s Bombshell to the Netflix show Unbelievable, most explore the ways in which women are silenced when it comes to the topic of sexual harassment.
Speaking about the inspiration for the show, Fowler said: “When I was asked to write a drama loosely based on #metoo in a fictional British workplace, I was more than ready to write it. I’d spent my entire life waiting for this moment to create Sam – a woman who had clawed her way to the top, and had been used and abused as much as she had used and abused others.”
And many of the words spoken by our characters are real-life echoes. “The lead defence attorney in Harvey Weinstein’s rape and sexual assault trial, Donna Rotunno, responded to a question about whether she had ever been sexually assaulted on The Daily podcast. ‘I have not because I would never put myself in that position. I’ve always made choices from college age on where I never drank too much. I never went home with someone that I didn’t know. I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstances ever.’ I took her words and gave them to Sam…”
Takrar also added: “There is also a lot of uncovering truth in the series, which is something we’ve seen in the media recently, people who have done bad things ten years ago and the past catches up with them.” It’s a particularly pertinent comment in light of recent developments in the Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell case regarding the trafficking of minors.
Rules of the Game aims to reflect real-life reactions to sexual politics in the workplace, from internalised misogny to harmful behaviour between colleagues. As Peake stated, “I know we’re not changing the world, but we’re making sure that these issues don’t go away, we have something that is a drama but has a strong political vein running through it.”
Rules of the Game airs Tuesday, January 11 at 9pm on BBC One. The full box set will also be available on BBC iPlayer.
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