School for Scandal Brings Sex & Secrets to Our Screens; LIFTING THE LID ON BBC WALES' COLLEGE KIDS DRAMA FIRST DEGREE

The Mirror (London, England), October 7, 2002 | Go to article overview
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School for Scandal Brings Sex & Secrets to Our Screens; LIFTING THE LID ON BBC WALES' COLLEGE KIDS DRAMA FIRST DEGREE


Byline: ANNIE LEASK

BOLD and innovative are not normally words one associates with the BBC, but their latest dramatic offering First Degree is all that and more.

It has a cast of good-looking young actors, a smattering of swearing and plenty of sex.

With this edgy nine-parter BBC Wales is unashamedly pursuing younger viewers. Stung by the public's rejection of court-room drama The Bench the Corporation is going back to basics with First Degree.

There is certainly nothing refined about some of the language, or the rather brutal sex scenes.

But the new show - filmed in the huge warehouse space outside Newport which once held the set of the now defunct, The Bench - has a sophisticated, glossy look that has been missing from much of the recent youth TV offerings.

First Degree charts the progress of a group of students who attend the fictitious, prestigious New Technology hot house, Bay College , in Cardiff.

In the first double-length episode on BBC 1 Wales tonight, viewers see the wannabe Bay College students put through their paces to see who is in and who is out.

The Welsh Daily Mirror tracked down two of the show's stars who hope First Degree has what it takes to become a hit.AMANDA RAWNSLEY plays the vulnerable, damaged Maddy - a character so controlled by creepy lecturer Johann that she has sex with other men so he can watch her on the CCTV cameras.

Striking-looking Amanda, 24, also has the harrowing task of showing Maddy's habit of harming herself by cutting her arms.

"Maddy has been ill-treated and abused all her life. She was brought up in children's homes after her mother was found to be incapable of looking after her and her father didn't care.

"While she was in the homes she was manipulated into having sex and now it's her turn to manipulate by using sex, but she does realise what she is doing is wrong," says Amanda, "but she is scared of her lover Johann, who is very emotionally abusive. She adores him and at first can't see what he is doing to her."

"There's one very dramatic scene where another woman realises what is going on and tries to help her escape from Johann. Maddy tells her about the self-mutilation and pulls out a knife - but nobody laughs," she says with a grin.

Cardiff-born Amanda has more of an insight than most into the troubled minds of young girls thanks to her mother, who is a child psychiatrist. Her father was also a psychiatrist, but died when she was 14.

"I could never do my mum's job - that must be so difficult. I don't think I would be able to switch off from it when I came home. Just chatting to mum about her work has really helped with this role.

"She has given me lots of advice on how to portray Maddy's troubled mind. I asked her about it because it was very important to me to get that side of it right - it needed to be believable.

"I also met two girls who self-harm. One was someone I knew and she introduced me to someone else with the same problem.

"I discovered that the reasons why they do it are very wide-ranging. For some of them it's like needing the loo. You can keep putting it off and can manage for quite a long time, but then suddenly you have to cut yourself.

"Then there are others who have to do it every day. With Maddy it is like an irritation under her skin to her, but it is also a way of controlling her body.

"After everything she has been through in childhood it is her way of saying if anyone is going to hurt my body now it will be me."

Amanda explained she had been left quite affected by the tough role. She said: "It has stayed with me and I have found myself unable to sleep sometimes because of it. It has made me think much more about people who hurt themselves like this.

"I have had to make sure that I unwind at the weekends after filming when I go back to my flat in London, which I share with my boyfriend John Foster.

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School for Scandal Brings Sex & Secrets to Our Screens; LIFTING THE LID ON BBC WALES' COLLEGE KIDS DRAMA FIRST DEGREE
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