An unexpected knock on the door. A scrabble around for the essentials, stuffed into an overnight bag. The knocking turns to banging, and bailiffs shouting. Rain Dogs begins with a scene that will be devastatingly familiar to millions. Bursting out of her flat with her daughter Iris (Fleur Tashjian) running behind, Costello Jones (Daisy May Cooper) has some choice words for the men who have come to collect her long-overdue rent: “Relax chaps, you’ll be wanking yourselves silly to this later. Poverty porn at its finest!”
Rain Dogs, the BBC’s new comedy drama from Skint Estate author Cash Carraway is many things: dark, hilarious, crushing, filthy, engrossing, powerful. But it is not, categorically, poverty porn. It would be an easy trap for the series, which follows Costello and Iris from house to house as they try to make each a home, to fall into. But Carraway’s own experience of living on the breadline, and a steadfast avoidance of romanticising the actualities of homelessness, keep the series firmly in reality.
Things are not good for Costello at the start of the eight episodes: she can’t even afford a bag of crisps and is struggling to find a place to stay before nightfall. After 100 days sober, she even considers drinking again. Her desperation sees her accept a room (well, a cupboard) at a seemingly kind stranger’s flat, only for him to present her with a silky nightgown to wear, and expose himself.
This is a regular occurrence in Costello’s life: men see her vulnerability as an opportunity to take sexual advantage of her. There is a lot of uninvited masturbation – and some invited; Costello is a sex worker, and one of her long-term clients and closest confidantes pays her to clean his flat while he touches himself. It may sound strange, but it’s a very sweet relationship. That Rain Dogs doesn’t treat Costello’s job as exotic or even sexy, instead just a regular way to make money, is refreshing.
Holding it all together is Cooper, in what is sure to be a career-defining performance. Tough and frustrated, the star of This Country lets us feel sorry for her character but never allows it to tip over into pity. Costello is a woman who can handle herself, and Cooper’s unhesitant skill of switching from comedy to tragedy within the space of a scene is a marvel. One scene halfway through the series, in which Costello breaks down having had all her money stolen, took my breath away.
She’s matched by Jack Farthing (Poldark, Spencer) as her longtime best friend Selby, a gay posh bloke whose poor mental health, tempestuous relationship with his mother and gambling addiction often see him in dire straits. Selby provides much of Rain Dogs’ comic relief (his one-liners are testament to Carraway’s inherent funny bone), but he is ultimately a tragic character, and while Costello sees him as a father to Iris, their relationship is demonstrably toxic.
There’s also Gloria (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Alex Rider), another of Costello’s chaotic friends who works in her father’s funeral parlour and has a questionable taste in men and a heart of gold. Her scenes with Iris are sisterly and fun, bringing attention to the fact that among the drama and the misery of poverty, there’s a little girl finding her way in the world. It’s Iris that spurs the adults of Rain Dogs on to never give in to their circumstances.
Rain Dogs is a co-production with HBO, an American broadcaster responsible for some of TV’s glossiest, most expensive shows: Succession, Game of Thrones, The White Lotus. But it wears its gritty Britishness on its sleeve, from its tongue-in-cheek, dirty sense of humour to its council-flat-tower grime. It’s a messy, brilliant, sharp drama with buckets of pathos and plenty of laughs to lighten the mood. Don’t miss it.