Friday Finds: I May Destroy You (2020)

I’ve been meaning to write about ‘I May Destroy You’ for a long time. Actually, it was one of the reasons that I wanted to start this ‘Friday Finds’ series at all. When I watched it last year, based on the recommendation of a good friend, I really wanted to write about it on my blog. But at the time I was writing almost exclusively ‘Madeira Mondays’/historical focused content, so it didn’t feel like I could. But even after I introduced ‘Friday Finds’, it slipped my mind for a while, only to renter it when I was reading about all of the drama surrounding the Golden Globes, and how shows like Emily in Paris received recognition when I May Destroy You (a critical darling, at least in the UK) did not, back in 2020. Anyways: let me tell you about I May Destroy You, which, if you’ve not seen it already, is a really excellent and thought provoking show!

The series (which is only one season, and I imagine it’ll stay that way) was written, directed, produced AND stars Michaela Coel (what a powerhouse)! I wasn’t familiar with her work before but damn, that lady can write (and act, and direct, and do everything else too apparently!). I am really, really hesitant to say too much about the show, because it might sound overly sensational I think if I describe it too much. Basically, it’s about a young woman called Arabella in London (modern London, I feel like I should clarify since this is my blog after all haha!) who is a rising star writer, who is sexually assaulted one night and tries to piece together what exactly happened and move on with her life. But what I loved most about it was that it was more of a tapestry of London-life, featuring a mostly Black cast. And it’s about the sexual assault yes, everything orbits around that, but it’s about lots of other stuff too.

Love Actually is coming to my mind as a way to describe the structure but this is NOTHING like Love Actually haha. I like both but just very different. But I just mean that it’s a mixture of different overlapping stories as characters make their way through London (and even further afield to Italy). A lot of themes of the show feel very current: things like boundaries (in friendships, in relationships) and also social media (the good and the bad, mostly the bad) and race and ethics and power. That makes it sound heavy and these themes are important but often the show is really funny too.

The best thing I can say about it is that it’s a complicated show and it doesn’t shy away from the thorniness of issues around things like sexual assault and doesn’t feel polemical but actually realistic (for example, the idea that laws in certain places differ and what does that mean for our experiences? And also that sometimes there are gray areas and sometimes there are not). It’s not a show full of goodies and baddies. It’s a show of extreme, radical humanity towards all of its characters, that treats its subject matter with the nuance that it deserves. It’s also one that I think you could go back and watch again (I might do so!) and notice different things. Coel is a smart writer and a subtly powerful performer.

I remember telling my partner, after watching the show, in a somber tone: ‘I will never be as good a writer as Michaela Coel.’ While that was a bit of a silly thing to say (all writers are different and we shouldn’t compare like that), it came from a place of just genuine awe and respect. I find it interesting that other poets and fiction writers like myself rarely (almost never) mention screenwriters when asked: ‘What writers do you admire?’ Because I admire MANY screenwriters, especially for how they write dialogue and character: Michaela Coel for one, but also one of my writing heroes is the hilarious Amy Sherman-Palladino (who wrote Gilmore Girls) as well as the indomitable Ronald D. Moore (who wrote for Star Trek and is a wizard at writing characters).

So what I’m saying is: check out the show. Even that title is so brilliant: ‘I May Destroy You’. I was chatting with my friend after watching it and we were discussing: whose voice is that? Who is the ‘I’ and who is the ‘you’? Is the ‘I’ the sexual assaulter, perhaps? Or is it the person coming forward who now has a different kind of power to ‘destroy’ the life and career of the assaulter? Who HAS the true power in this title? Both? Neither? It’s as complex and thorny and thought-provoking as the show itself.

So I’d highly recommend it if it sounds like something you’d like. I think it’s on HBO in the USA and on BBC iPlayer in the UK. 🙂

Thanks as always for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

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