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Sex Traffic (2004)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Sex Traffic (2004)
Granada/Big Motion Pictures/Canadian Broadcasting Corp. for Channel 4, tx. 14/10-21/10/2004
2 x 115 min, colour
DirectorDavid Yates
ProducerDerek Wax
ScriptAbi Morgan
PhotographyChris Seager
EditorMark Day

Cast: John Simm (Daniel Appleton); Anamaria Marinca (Elena Visinescu); Maria Popistasu (Vara Visinescu); Wendy Crewson (Madeleine Harlsburgh); Chris Potter (Tom Harlsburgh); Len Cariou (Magnus Herzoff); Maury Chaykin (Ernie Dwight); Luke Kirby (Callum Tate); Robert Joy (Major James Brooke)

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A researcher and investigator for a charity uncovers a sordid trafficking ring which coerces and kidnaps young women from Eastern Europe, transports them to Italy and London, and forces them into prostitution and sex slavery.

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In Sex Traffic, a yearning for a better life turns into a nightmare struggle for survival. Writer Abi Morgan pulls no punches in her depiction of sex trafficking as an extreme form of gender inequality and modern slavery, where young women are seen as an exploitable, expendable commodity and where sex is seen as another form of big business, simply a matter of supply and demand.

Yet Morgan also shows the women's resilience in the face of emotional and social chaos (no surprise that she would next turn her attention to the trauma of the 2004 Tsunami). As in his previous television work, including his adaptation of Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now (BBC, 2001), which drew parallels between its ruthless Victorian entrepreneur hero and modern media tycoons, and the fine conspiracy thriller, State of Play (BBC, 2003), director David Yates gives a thrilling and complicated narrative a strong social and political dimension. The brutality of brothel life is tellingly juxtaposed with the ethics of Boston business, which is lavish with its charity while turning a knowingly blind eye to corruption.

While showing humanity at its most horrific and hypocritical, Sex Traffic balances that with poignant demonstrations of sisterly and parental love, the ties of home and family, the integrity of those who hate and oppose injustice. It courageously spotlights a tragedy of our time, emphasised by Cherie Blair in 2007, in a speech pointing out that, on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, human trafficking is the third largest transatlantic crime.

Some images resonate in the mind, like the husband alone at the end in his vast house, a reflection of both his hollow corporate victory and his loss of face and family; or Elena fighting for her life in the water, gripped by seemingly overwhelming forces but refusing to go under. Impeccably photographed, edited and scored, the film is adorned by excellent performances from contemporary stars such as John Simm and seasoned veterans like Len Cariou, Robert Joy and Maury Chaykin. The women are particularly haunting. Wendy Crewson is supremely sensitive as the executive's wife, who begins the film petulantly looking for an expensive earring under the bed and ends it staring into a terrifying emotional abyss; but the heart and soul of the drama is Anamaria Marinca's performance as Elena, an amazing debut that richly deserved one of the film's eight BAFTA awards.

Neil Sinyard

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Video Clips
1. 'My name is Anja' (4:27)
2. 'Open your eyes' (2:46)
3. Daniel Appleton (3:09)
4. 'I can't sell this' (2:42)
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TV Drama in the 2000s