Max (Callum Booth-Ford) is an 11 year-old boy, about to start secondary school. He likes to paint his nails and wear lipstick, but that’s only allowed in the house and never outside it. His parents Vicky (Anna Friel) and Stephen (Emmett J Scanlan) have separated for unclear reasons, and can’t comprehend the reasons behind Max’s ‘feminine’ drives. But when he grows impatient, growing seriously depressed, his parents are forced to listen.
It’s a hard concept to get right, especially since these issues on TV and film are just starting to become better known (Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman is a case in point). In Butterfly, Merchant’s intentions are all in the right place and the story is fascinating in its various stages. He is wise to make the kids smart, almost like little adults, and making them capable of deciding for themselves who they want to be. It makes Max’s feelings more legitimate – he knows who he wants to be.
However, aside from these hotly debated issues about trans children, the show doesn’t have much else to say. Every action, reaction, and character trait is so directed toward Max’s desire to be a girl that nothing else is permitted to flourish. It’s like the in depth research that Merchant clearly did is misting up the lens, and we’re denied the chance to go deeper.
Director Anthony Byrne does well to splash some colour on the story, with some vibrant pop-video visuals by Si Bell and keen performances from Booth-Ford and Millie Gibson (playing Max’s sister). But this episode feels more like a stylish tutorial about transgender children and how to adjust and accept who they are, rather than a strongly written drama. It’s a well-meaning stepping stone, just not a very big one.
|What||Butterfly episode 1 review|
On 14 Oct 18, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM