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True grit

Victoria Neumark follows the turbulent rites of passage of a group of young people, in a realistic BBC2 schools drama.


Age group: 13-17 BBC2, October 13, 1.00pm. Teachers' notes, Pounds 4.50. BBC Education, 0181-746 1111

I just want to be happy. Everyone's happy nowadays. There's no need for anyone to be unhappy," says Tom, chilling out on a rooftop as dawn breaks over London "so beautiful" as his mates stay cool in the abandoned warehouse where they raved all night long.

But Sarah knows different. "My mum cut her wrists last night." So saying, she breaks from Tom and what has seemed like the only happiness she has found ("Our first night, wasn't it wild?" says Tom) and returns to what he spurns as "doomy duty and all that stodgy stuff": the alcoholic mother, the lonely kid sister, the bailiffs knocking on the door.

But Loved Up, a drama in school's television's long-running Scene series, eschews easy morality or plotting. It kind of hangs out and goes to parties like its cast. Stuff just, like, happens.

It might be against the law to make away with the abandoned mail bag and read and deliver the post, but isn't it fun to hand someone the letter offering him a job and see his face when he reads it? And, hey, let's throw these bills away, they're no fun for anyone to receive.

Hang on a moment. Will the police car which races after these merry pranksters bang them up, find the drugs, frame them? No, the car is too much of a pig-stye to search, so they let them go. One up, eh, Tom? Then again, when Sarah is beaten up by a pimp on whose territory she trangresses, what happens? Nothing. Well, she's hardly going to go to the police, is she, and say she was robbed when selling drugs?

A convincing portrait of life as it is thrashed out on dancefloors, cheap settees in squats and sordid streets, Loved Up is not at all depressing. On the contrary, with liquid camerawork and intensely observed acting, the two episodes share the vitality of their protagonists and capture the rapture of being young as well as flashing searching lights into the shadows around the dancefloor.

As a tool for discussions in personal and social education at secondary school, the programmes are excellent. Alhough some young people may feel Sarah's predicament piles on the agony a bit, more will be interested to see what happens next. There are touches of a realistic soap in the intercut scenes between rave and home, and many of the crises she faces, from losing her job after swearing at the boss to choosing what, if any, drugs she will take, are or will be familiar to their audience.

Some of the rest of the plotline, particularly a young girl falling in love with a man because he is fun but discovering that he will not commit himself to her in any way, is as old as the hills, but none the less relevant for that. We're talking teenagers here, remember, the Romeo and Juliet age.

The attendant dangers of drugtaking, whether violence over pushers' territories or overheating through dehydration, are covered within the storyline but, hopefully, without turning off the audience through overt preaching.

Most movingly, the images of life are offered for the audience to tease out: the rain-soaked streets, the mad and desperate mother scrabbling around with knives in her grimy kitchen, the sad little schoolgirl trotting home alone; and the pulsing music, the flashing lights and the warm friendly flesh of companions at the rave.

The play suggests the question who wouldn't rather lose themselves in a jungle beat and "just be happy?" The answer comes from Sarah "But I couldn't live with myself!" and she tears herself away.

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