Maryland was originally conceived as a short, sharp, shocking play. It was written in rage by Lucy Kirkwood as a rapid response to specific recent real-life events, but also to a lifetime living in a culture of male violence against women.
Now this searing indictment of the culture that continues to normalise male violence against women comes to television, with Hayley Squires (pictured) and Zawe Ashton starring as two women, both called Mary, both recently subjected to violent attacks.
They are supported by a chorus of modern-day furies. Six women who offer everyday observations spiked with the truth: “In my local postcode there is regular and satisfactory collection of household refuse, recycling, green waste and male rage.”
These serve as a wake-up call to viewers who can become almost inured or desensitised to depictions of violence against women on TV, so common are they in crime dramas.
An hour after watching Maryland on the big screen, actors Hayley Squires and Daniel Mays joined The Big Issue to talk about the powerful new half-hour film.
“It’s truthful – I think that’s where its power comes from,” says Squires, no stranger to drama with a big message having starred in I, Daniel Blake and won an Emmy for her role in Kirkwood’s Adult Material in 2020.
There’s a quiet fury in the writing. A sense that enough is enough, something has to change.
“Lucy can write something and make you go, ‘that’s exactly what I felt or that’s exactly what happened,’” says Squires.
“When a truth is so dreadful and tiring, it probably does come across as quite angry. We filmed it in the space of five days. It was very quick. When we wrapped, it was all the women on set. And everyone did feel like they’d done proper work. Everyone got a bit teary.”
Unsurprisingly, even on a short shoot, the women involved shared their truths and experiences during filming.
“So many things came up,” says Squires. “We discussed it throughout the week we were filming, clear-cut things that have happened to us in relationships or men that we have met. Towards the end of it, me and Zawe were a little bit hysterical. It is so deeply ingrained that it is actually difficult to describe – that feeling of checking what bus you are getting home, if you have enough batteries to be able to call someone on your 15-minute walk.
“I remember when I was younger, seeing my mum with her keys in her hand. We were somewhere in south London. I asked what she was doing and her telling me that she was holding them like that so she could smash someone in the face so we would be able to run. You grow up with these things, they are just in you, rules that you are taught. You look at it as an adult and go, it is about survival. And that’s mad. Trying to describe that to a man is quite difficult.”
We are talking on the morning Boris Johnson’s resignation is announced (to huge cheers from cast and crew when the news is conveyed). It is lost on no-one present that the PM is finally stepping down, in part, because of lies about promoting an abusive man to the role of deputy chief whip.
“It’s a tale as old as time, isn’t it?” says Squires. “People in positions of power – and what comes with that is entitlement in terms of how they treat other people.”
It’s not a debate. It’s fact. We’re not making this problem up, this exists. You can deny it all you want, but it’s happening
Mays, a Big Issue ambassador, plays the officer welcoming the two Marys to the police station. He cracks jokes with unknowing, unthinking insensitivity – part of the problem, part of the failure, part of the culture that enables male violence and has seen the Met Police brought under special measures.
This is the same culture that fails to protect and serve all people equally, a failure that has seen conviction rates for rape plummet in recent years. The rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving, on-duty police officer was one of the triggers for Kirkwood writing Maryland.
“It felt like a tipping point,” says Mays. “Particularly the vigil that was policed so badly, so heavy-handedly…”
“And we were in and out of lockdown,” adds Squires. “The fact that such a horrendous thing happened at a time where an already extremely horrendous thing was happening in the country, where we were already feeling quite unsafe…”
“I think this is part of a whole sea-change after the whole #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter. Within society there is a seismic change,” continues Mays. “It’s huge. And I think Maryland feels part of that movement. It feels like it is educating us. Telling us you can’t behave like that in the future.
“There’s a really powerful device that is used – like a sort of Greek chorus of women revealing their innermost fears and anxieties. I can’t ever remember when it’s ever been spelled out like that – that’s the thing that resonates. It is a scream from women, really. And how they feel about male violence towards them. And if we can get that vital message across, that’s a wonderful thing.”
Squires agrees. “We’re not watching a kitchen sink drama of a woman being killed, finding out who the killer is, and seeing how the family react,” she says.
“Lucy’s just written something that’s truthful. This is what it is. It’s not a debate. It’s fact. We’re not making this problem up, this exists. You can deny it all you want, but it’s happening. This is not a 30-minute-long accusation. It’s showing you the truth and asking for your help. We need you onside. We’ve done everything we can on our own and it’s still not working. It’s only going to work if we get your help.”
Maryland airs on July 20 at 10.05pm on BBC2 and iPlayer
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