One of my all time favourite tv shows has to be Channel 4’s Skins, the ultimate teen series of the late 2000’s. It had everything you’d expect from your average teen drama – coming-of-age stories, struggles with identity, and school problems – ramped up to 5000 with a lot of sex, drugs, and partying thrown into the mix. While the hyped up lifestyles of the show’s three generations weren’t an exact reflection of my teenage life (I was a hugely boring teen), there have been few shows since that I found myself so strongly connected to. So when one of the former Skins writers was going to be creating the new BBC Three show, Clique, I knew I’d have to watch.
Clique is a dark and dramatic thriller about two childhood best friends, Georgia (Aisling Franciosi) and Holly (Synnove Karlsen), entering their first year at a university in Edinburgh. Georgia, the wilder of the two, drags Holly to a gig where she soon gets too drunk to function. They are rescued by a group of four girls, too glamorous for the grungy student surrounds, and then sent home in their private car. The four girls reappear after Holly and Georgia have their first lecture with Jude McDermid, a strong-minded lecturer with high expectations and a controversial view of feminism. They learn about the Solasta internship, taking first year girls into the business run by Jude’s brother Alistair and pushing them into perfection, and Georgia soon integrates herself into the group to get a piece of the elite lifestyle. Neglected, Holly struggles to cope without her other half and worries constantly. A panicked phone call seems to confirm her fears but, instead of finding Georgia in trouble, Holly instead witnesses the death of one of the four Solasta girls. Fighting with her own ambition, Holly struggles to swim through the twisted Solasta world and save Georgia.
This was one of those shows that kept me guessing. While I could see certain things happening, and could predict which character arcs may end badly, there were so many interwoven threads that you’re still left guessing until the end. I spent the first four episodes of Clique wondering why we kept having flashbacks to events from Holly’s childhood (though I’d worked out pretty early on what had happened), the fifth wondering why I’d spent so long trusting a certain character when it was suddenly clear that they had another agenda, and the sixth appreciating the mastery of it all coming together. There are still, unfortunately, some questions left – because there’s either a hell of a lot of coincidences or Holly is just really bloody predictable – but Clique does come to a satisfying conclusion. Not necessarily a happy one, but satisfying.
Like Skins, Clique is not supposed to reflect the general university experience. I read a lot of reviews after the first episode and most were along the lines of “that’s nothing like my time at uni” and I wondered if we were watching the same show. It was never supposed to reflect truth and honestly, if after the first episode you’re still thinking it should, then you haven’t been watching properly. Skins threw all the extreme portions of teen life, with worst case scenarios and more extremes than a Hollywood action film, and Clique does the same with university. Add to that the fact that it is a psychological thriller, I have to ask, do you really wish your uni life was like that? I know I don’t! It’s dark and twisted, exploring the isolation uni life can bring and the confusion of newly adult freedom and expectations, all mashed together with the relationship between women and the complications of ambition. It is not about your uni experience.
Clique is a very female-focused show. Significant male characters can pretty much be named on one hand and few of them are overly positive characters (admittedly, I’m pretty sure not many of the women could be considered “good” either). It is largely a show about women and their relationships with one another. From the fractured co-dependant relationship between Holly and Georgia, the longing desire for a friendship with Holly from Elizabeth, the girls’ desperate desire to please Jude, the competition for better positions within Solasta… There are so many different female relationships shown throughout the six episodes and this is where I found myself drawing the most comparisons to my own life. Who hasn’t had an older woman that you desperately want to please but find kind of terrifying? Who hasn’t found themselves on the outside, desperate to find a friend to belong with? Who hasn’t looked at their closest friendship and found themselves worried about the changes in the relationship? Like Skins, Clique‘s strength is its reflection of real relationships, real concerns, through extreme situations and it makes for a really interesting watch. I do think it might have been nice to look at some of the more positive female relationships – it’s very doom and gloom through a lot of it – but I can accept that that may not have worked tonally.
Obviously, in a show that’s all about women, with a female-led cast and a female writer, feminism automatically becomes a subject for discussion in Clique. While Jess Britain has said in interviews that a pushing a particular feminist argument was not her intention with the show – though part of me wonders if this was said to save herself from entering into a discussion about why her depiction of feminism was so heavily focused on the experiences of privileged white women – it’s certainly something that filters in throughout the show. The trailer and first episode caused controversy due to some speeches from Louise Brealey’s Jude McDermid, who critiques feminism and the attitude of those who support it very bluntly, but this was another controversy that made me wonder if I was watching the same show. It was clear from the beginning of the show and her opening speech that Jude is pretty arrogant and only sees as far as her own experience. To me, this made it instantly obvious that the events of the show were going to shake her beliefs. Jude was not going to make it through with the same bullish ideals and anti-feminist attitude. Brittain may claim that she wasn’t making any feminist statements but the treatment of Jude in particular seems to speak volumes.
Although not a huge example of my critical abilities, I will admit that one of Clique‘s great draws for me was its setting. There are some great comedies set in Scotland but Scottish dramas… I don’t tend to feel overly connected to them. They so often feel overdone, a parody of the world I know rather than a real reflection, or they are aimed at an audience twice my age and I can’t connect that way. Clique, for all it’s exaggeration, was something I could connect to. Hearing Scottish accents on my screen made me happy, instead of making me cringe. The point of the show was not that it was Scottish and so the Scottish-ness was just a part of the setting which made it work for me. Other reviews have complained about finding it hard to understand because of the accent but it’s online – if you really have a problem you can use subtitles, ya eejit.
While I don’t think Jess Brittain’s Clique will have the timelessness of Skins, its exploration of female relationships and ambition makes it a fascinating show to watch. The twists and turns in a well-constructed plot keeps you guessing and the conflicting and controversial views of the characters definitely opens up some interesting topics of discussion. It’s well-written, well-acted, and the extravagant world of the Solasta interns will definitely drag you into its depths.