“One of the most impressive, most heartbreaking films”: viewers react to BBC’s Floodlights

BBC Two’s Floodlights is the new factual drama that’s taking the internet by storm for its unflinching look at one of the UK’s most harrowing cases of child sexual abuse. 

Content note: this article discusses child sexual abuse, which some readers might find upsetting.

We’re often bowled over by the calibre of documentaries as they explore some of the world’s most difficult topics, and sometimes, a factual drama takes TV viewers by storm. Floodlights aired on BBC Two last night (and is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer), and it explores a case that many will be familiar with given how momentous and important it was.

Floodlights explores the powerful story of Andy Woodward (played here by Shameless actor Gerard Kearns), one of the first footballers to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the national game.

As the synopsis reads: “The film explores how a coach like Barry Bennell could groom players and families on the promise of a dream. His success and charisma protected him from scrutiny in an industry that prizes winning over everything else.

“But by finding the courage to speak out, Andy opened the door for other victims to follow him, driven by his desire for redemption and justice and his need to take back what Bennell had stolen from him.” 

The real-life Andy Woodward.

Woodward even said himself that “we were the best team in the land, and the most damaged team in the land”. The synopsis continues: “At the last count, nearly 1,000 separate allegations of abuse have been made against more than 300 alleged abusers in a scandal that continues to send shockwaves through the sport and the country.”

If you’re yet to watch Floodlights, prepare yourself for an unflinching – but deeply necessary – look at a part of football history that needs to be spoken about more.

Bennell was imprisoned in 2018 for child sexual abuse offences against 22 boys, and while that is the number of people he has been convicted of abusing, it’s widely believed that the true figure runs into three figures, with the youngest of them being just eight years old.

Bennell had previously served sentences for similar crimes, but in 2018, he was sentenced to a 34-year term. The conviction was mostly due to Woodward’s testimony and the fact he waived his anonymity in the 2016 Guardian interview with Daniel Taylor. In the interview, Woodward revealed: “My life has been ruined until the age of 43. But how many others are there? I’m talking about hundreds of children who Barry Bennell cherry-picked for various football teams and who now, as adults, might still be living with that awful fear.” 

Jonas Armstrong plays football coach Barry Bennell in BBC’s Floodlights.

He detailed how he was raped by Bennell during his three years in Crewe’s youth team and his testimony, as a former professional footballer for Sheffield United and Bury FC, spurred other victims of abuse to come forward. He said: “We’ve seen with the Jimmy Savile case how people have had the courage, yet I’d say within the football world it’s even harder to speak out.”

Now, Floodlights is cataloguing the horrors and turmoil that Woodward went through, and viewers are praising the way this has been depicted.

Jonas Armstrong (Robin Hood) plays Bennell, and although it’s a character that nobody admires, his performance in the new drama left many people floored: 

The drama shone a light on the topic and resonated with many people who watched it: 

Fellow abuse survivors saw their experiences aptly captured on screen:  

Many viewers are praising Woodward for his important story, which led to public consciousness about the case and the topic of abuse in football:

It’s the kind of drama that will stick with viewers for a very long time:

Floodlights is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Images: BBC

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