Samantha Morton, Gemma Chan and Letitia Wright are among the megawatt talents with whom director Dominic Savage has collaborated on his I Am ... series. The deal is that the star helps develop the script and then plays the lead while Savage directs, typically in a dispassionate kitchen-sink style. But for all the starriness of the collaborators, the subject matter is invariably ripped from the darkest chapters of everyday life, encompassing everything from domestic abuse to mental health.
Savage and Channel 4 have attracted perhaps their biggest name yet in Kate Winslet. She acts opposite her 22-year-old real daughter, Mia Threapleton, in I Am Ruth (Channel 4, 9pm) – a stark and bruising meditation on the impact of social media on the psychological wellbeing of young women.
It’s unflinching with a vengeance. The camera hugs Winslet’s face, lingering over every tear and worry line as her character, Ruth, frets about her depressed 17-year-old daughter (Threapleton) and the teen’s obsession with chronicling her life on her mobile phone.
Winslet was motivated to make the film after noticing her own children’s interactions with technology. She was also struck by how Covid heightened the isolation with which many teenagers were already struggling.
“For young people, I think especially because of Covid, it just got really out of control – loneliness and insecurity and just building a basic level of self-esteem for so many of these children,” she said. “During Covid, that self-esteem they were sort of searching for almost online in some way, and that’s desperately sad.”
The point I Am Ruth has to make about the impact of Instagram and Facebook on young women’s self-esteem is not original. And Winslet’s performance sometimes feels too overwrought for the everyday setting.
You are never not aware you are watching the woman who snogged Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic playing a working single mum who lives in an ordinary house and has a dreary office job. This is big, Oscar-grade acting squeezed into a Channel 4 two-hander and it doesn’t quite take.
The real heavy lifting comes from Threapleton, wrenching in her portrayal of teenage despair. She’s great at adolescent bravado, too – as we see when Freya angrily accuses her mother of encroaching on her personal life.
Savage has been previously accused of wallowing in misery and of painting the lives of everyday women as mired in hopelessness. I Am Ruth is certainly bleak.
Yet the flailing Ruth’s love for her daughter is a source of light amid the gloom, and Winslet and Savage dare to end on a note of redemption. Winslet is as committed as ever and brings heft to the picture she paints of parental despair. But the true star is the magnificent Threapleton.