Maryland reveals the injustices women face

Wednesday: Maryland - (BBC Two, 10.05pm)

It’s a big year for Zawe Ashton.

The 37-year-old actor debuted her baby bump at a New York screening of the period drama Mr Malcolm’s List; it will be her first child with fiance Tom Hiddleston, whom she first met when appearing in the 2019 West End revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.

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She’s also starring in a short but what promises to be a memorable TV adaptation of Lucy Kirkwood’s play Maryland, which was first staged in 2021 at the Royal Court in London.

Ashton and Squires play two ordinary females called Mary

Her appearance in the piece ties in with an interview she gave to Bustle UK back in 2019, in which she announced she was planning to tackle unacceptable on-set behaviour, and will “call abuse when it’s abuse”, adding: “When you work in film sets, when you’re working on projects that are male dominated, you are always treated as the last priority. There have been times when, like in sex scenes or whatever, I’ve just been expected to get on with it. No conversation, no time wasting, you’re just supposed to minimise your space, and let the money-making industry crack on because time is money.”

Maryland teams her with Hayley Squires, who in turn is pleased to be reunited with Kirkwood, writer of Adult Material, a hard-hitting Channel 4 drama about the porn industry, in which Squires took the lead role.

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At the time the series was broadcast, Squires said of Kirkwood’s work: “Lucy’s writing is so clever, her dialogue’s so clever, the way she tells stories is so clever and complex and with something like this, it’s so easy for people to just preach and for writing to just be a mouthpiece for their opinion, and it was the complete opposite for me.”

Kirkwood’s latest project focuses on the violence women are forced to deal with in their everyday lives.

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Ashton and Squires play two ordinary females called Mary who get to know each other after meeting at a police station; both of them have been sexually assaulted.

Helping them through the process of reporting the crime are PC Moody (Daniel Mays) and his colleague PC Eddowes (Justine Mitchell), while a chorus of modern-day furies assist as they tell their stories, railing against the injustices the women face.

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“I wrote the original play as a howl against the way we have normalised violence against women as something to be accommodated by women themselves, rather than protested by all of us,” explains Kirkwood. “Against the way that women, especially women of colour, cannot at present even rely on the forces of law and order to protect or respect their bodies. Against the recent deaths of women including Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and Sabina Nessa in particular, and the anxiety and fear which we expect and accept in general.

“I hope the film will give new oxygen to that protest, but I wish it was not still such an urgent conversation.”

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With this in mind, it’s clear that 2022 isn’t just big for Ashton, it’s a potential turning point for women everywhere.