red rose comes from the producers of Sex Education but where that took a US high school structure and stuck it in the British countryside, red rose is British through and through. These kids have finished their GCSEs and head out to the Moors to sign each other’s shirts and pass round a contraband bottle of Sherry. These aren’t rich kids, school factions aren’t clearly delineated (although you wouldn’t want to fuck with the two Jennas), and we’re pretty sure their school doesn’t have an Accapella group. Everybody just wants to get drunk (despite the fact that they are 16) but there’s no beer pong here. However, the gang does sit around playing a drinking game version of Guess Who?, using prompts like “do they look like they’re a drain on society? and “do they look like they want to speak to the manager?”
The Bolton setting was key to writers Michael and Paul Clarkson who said in a press release, “Bolton was a fascinating place to grow up in and the people are really inspiring. Normally, when you hear northern accents on the TV, they’re working in the kitchens on Downton Abbey or they’re crack addicts on The Bill. We thought ‘why can’t we see real human beings?’
The very naturalistic dialogue shines. It’s here and in the scrappy idiosyncratic and very believable characters that makes the show reminiscent of Derry Girls. While the background and time period are different, these are kids, and their parents, who are dealing with their fair share of hardship, whether that’s poverty, depression, alcoholism or crime. And like Derry Girls the big issues don’t bring the show down. As the episodes progress even bigger problems arise.
Though Roch and Wren are the leads in the show the supporting cast is great too. Natalie Blair as unpaid barmaid Ashley is great and has a lot of the best lines, cheeky interloper to the group Taz gives good comic relief, and a subplot with Ellis Howard’s Anthony which is only just beginning to develop by episode three promises further intrigue.
Hainsworth and Clarkson are both exceptional as Roch and Wren, with Roch initially the prickly fireball and Wren quickly coming into her own when she’s pushed too far. As a study of female friendship at an extremely vulnerable age it’s very effective too. Rather than playing these teens as bitchy drama queens, instead they are people who love each other, trying to find their feet and test their boundaries. That it’s an evil app that’s brass with their relationship and skewing their communications, on top of the already delicate balance of best friendship adds an extra level of tension. And, no doubt, a metaphor, though fortunately so far that hasn’t been telegraphed to any extent.
It’s a highly promising show, though it’ll be interesting to see what a contemporary teen audience will make of it. Do 16-year-olds still play Guess Who? Would ‘Barbie Girl’, ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ and ‘Better off Alone’ (which all feature prominently in the sound track) not be hopelessly dated to modern teens? Do today’s 16-year-olds still get their kicks by nicking whatever they can get out of their parent’s booze cupboard and sitting in a field? Plus ça change: the more things change, the more they stay the same.