Doing Money: sleazy underbelly of Ireland’s sex trafficking laid bare

TV Review: New bone-chilling drama makes for uneasy, but essential viewing

Anca Dumitra as Ana in Doing Money. Photograph: BBC/Renegade Pictures/Peter Marley

Anca Dumitra as Ana in Doing Money. Photograph: BBC/Renegade Pictures/Peter Marley

 

It’s already been a richly busy month for female-led projects on Irish screens, but it’s safe to say that Doing Money (Sunday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm) is about as far as it’s possible to get from the sugary, glossy Finding Joy, the breakneck melodrama of Blood or the first world problems of Women On The Verge. Centring on slavery, human trafficking and the murky underbelly of the sex trade in Ireland, Doing Money, a co-production between RTÉ and the BBC, is probably the most bone-chilling drama to arrive on Irish screens in some time. And on Halloween weekend, that’s saying something.

Romanian Ana (Anca Dumitra) is working as a cleaner in London when she is unceremoniously snatched from the street in broad daylight. “Nobody knows where I am, not even me,” she reveals in a monotone voice-over.

Resistance against her new captors is, predictably, futile: ‘How far will you get in your knickers in a foreign country?” posits a fellow sex worker. She and a handful of other escorts – including 18-year-old Daniela (Voica Oltean), promised by a boyfriend that she would only need to do “webcam work” – are pinged around the country, alternating between the “porn star experience” and the “girlfriend experience”, with the violent, bloodied interludes.

Anca Dumitra in particular is a compelling screen presence, carrying much of the action along with a brilliant and astute central performance

Her clients are unlikely to be of any help and, as one particularly chilling scene shows, those living their daily lives on the same street as whatever house the women are “doing money” in are none the wiser as to what happens behind papered-up windows.

Many of the women’s clients, as it happens, are only too happy to look the other way when they realise the women they want to have sex with for money are doing so under duress. Just one of many sobering truisms scattered throughout.

The day-to-day operation, which in time expands to Sweden, is overseen by the sinister Ancuta (Cosmina Stratan). Ancuta may be slight and scruffy, with a most annoying habit of sucking her teeth for effect, yet she somehow has what it takes to bamboozle all manner of estate agents, the authorities, and various clients.

The PSNI, meanwhile, among them Dougie (Allan Leech) and DC Rachel (Karen Hassan), are embroiled in a familiar game of cat and mouse, encouraging in vain these terrified young women to disclose details. Ironically, it takes a local petty criminal Sean (Tom Glynn-Carney) to provide a glimmer of promise; a way out somehow.

The taut script of writer Gwyneth Hughes (Vanity Fair, Remember Me), based on a true story, has evidently benefited from extensive research. Because of it, Doing Money sufficiently captures the anxiety, hopelessness and icy terror of human trafficking. Anca Dumitra in particular is a compelling screen presence, carrying much of the action along with a brilliant and astute central performance. Yet for all its harrowing and austere bleakness – Lynsey Miller’s direction is cleverly pared back – there’s barely a dull moment in this steadily paced drama. The devil is very much in the detail, and the details that unfold about the experiences of Ana and her ilk, not to mention the futility of the justice system and a cohort of criminals one step ahead of everyone, makes for uneasy viewing. Uneasy, but utterly essential.

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