Warning: contains spoilers for the Fifteen-Love finale and details of sexual assault.
Tennis abuse scandal drama Fifteen-Love does a few things very well. One is casting newcomer Ella Lily Hyland as Justine, a lead role which will hopefully be the first of many. (Remember 21-year-old Emily Blunt burning like a sun in 2004’s My Summer of Love? Hyland’s in that league. Productions should be falling over themselves to hire her after this.)
The second coup was casting Aidan Turner as Glenn, the tennis coach Justine accuses of historical sexual abuse. Professionally handsome Turner is a world away from the popularly held image of a pervy old man, and a plausible object of lust for the young Justine and others. When Glenn dismisses Justine’s claims as a bitter grudge resulting from professional frustration and youthful infatuation, you could well believe it. A cocky 16-year-old like Justine might well fantasise over this attractive, older, married coach.
That leads us to Fifteen-Love’s other trump card. Just as Glenn doesn’t present as your average member of the dirty mac brigade, neither does Justine present as a “good victim”. She drinks to excess, has a reputation for chaotic behaviour (so online date Mikki tells her), pushes boundaries at work, and has alienated friends and family, who choose to distance themselves when she reports Glenn to the police. She also crosses some major lines when attempting to pin down Glenn’s latest suspected victim, another young girl in his care.
Like Glenn’s good looks and charm, Justine being vindicated by the end of this drama is a useful complication of commonly held prejudices surrounding cases of sexual abuse.
The tension as to whether Glenn or Justine is telling the truth only takes Fifteen-Love a little way along its story. We quickly learn that Glenn’s the liar, and they did have a sexual relationship when Justine was 16-17 years old. The mystery then becomes whether this was part of a pattern of predatory behaviour, what happened on the eve of Justine’s career-ending match at the 2018 French Open, and whether Glenn would be found out and punished.
By the end of the drama the answers to those questions are definitively: yes, sexual assault, and yes. More detail below.
What Happened Between Glenn and Justine in Paris?
A few months earlier at a St Petersburg tournament, coach Glenn and 16-year-old tennis player Justine started having sex. By the time of the 2018 French Open, Justine estimated that they’d had between 40-50 secret sexual encounters.
On the eve of Justine’s French Open match, she asked if Glenn was going to spend the night in her room and he refused, saying that his wife was due at the hotel the next day. Hurt, Justine told him to get out but Glenn refused, closed the curtains, and kissed and groped her while she stayed unresponsive. They argued. Glenn told Justine that she had no idea how to behave, and she called him a parasite who clings on to people with talent. He pinned her against a wall and violently pulled her wrist back. Justine told him he was hurting her and that she didn’t want to have sex but he didn’t stop.
Before the match, Justine went to Glenn, in tears about her injured wrist. He injected her with a cortico-steroid nerve blocker to dull the pain and enable her to play on the injury. During the match, her bone shattered and she went out of the tournament. Following the rape and the injury, Justine suffered a breakdown and ended her tennis career. Glenn left the UK and her, taking his family to his next tennis job in Orlando, but not before attempting to groom another young victim.
While Justine was injured, Glenn began privately coaching her fellow Longwood scholarship candidate Renee, then aged 15. According to Renee, they “fooled around” but didn’t have sex because she refused. Due to her refusal, Glenn effectively “blacklisted” Renee, telling colleagues behind her back that she wasn’t talented enough to pursue a tennis career, which halted her professional development for years. It wasn’t until Justine started coaching Renee in her early 20s that she qualified to compete at Wimbledon and goes on to tennis fame.
Renee chose not to come forward about Glenn’s sexual behaviour towards her during Justine’s first allegations of misconduct because she didn’t believe he was a serial abuser, because Justine had kept her sexual encounters with Glenn a secret at his behest. If the two girls had been free to speak about their experiences, perhaps he could have been stopped earlier.
Later, when Renee does believe Justine about Glenn, she still refuses to come forward because she believes that the world of professional sport is still the same place it’s always been – small, and punishing for those who speak up about abuse. She prefers to focus on her recently revived career prospects and doesn’t want to lose potential sponsorship deals by being forever labelled “the abuse scandal girl”.
However, in the final moments of the series, we see Renee being made up for a photoshoot and watching an online video about the bravery of those victims who go public, indicating that she may be in conflict about her choice to stay quiet.
If Glenn hadn’t been so successful in manipulating Justine and his other victims to think they were special and that he loved them, then he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to continue his pattern of grooming and abuse. But he was, and continue he did.
In Orlando, Glenn groomed and began a sexual relationship with American teenager Luisa Molina. He accidentally impregnated Luisa before she flew to the UK as part of Longwood’s exchange programme. Luisa, believing that Glenn loved her, protected him and fought against what she saw as Justine’s false allegations. Only after she was played a live recording of Glenn telling Justine that Luisa meant nothing to him and that she’d got herself pregnant, did Luisa finally cut ties with Glenn and go home to her family Orlando, still presumably pregnant with his child.
Because, at the time it happened, Glenn and Justine’s sexual relationship was not against UK law (it is now, after changes were made to the legal definition of a “position of trust”), he could not be prosecuted for it. Justine was over 16, and therefore no crime had been committed in the eyes of the law (she had not yet come forward about the rape in Paris).
When Justine realised that Glenn had historically sexually abused Apolenka, the then 14-year-old daughter of his parents’ housekeeper, before her, she convinced Apolenka to testify against him. ‘Polly’ had kept explicit love letters Glenn had written to her during the abuse, which were the hard evidence needed to prove his crimes. At Glenn’s trial, Apolenka testifies: “I didn’t know that what was happening wasn’t normal or acceptable. I didn’t want to have any part of it. I was scared about having a home here. I thought it was my fault.”
At Glenn’s trial, two other unnamed victims in addition to Justine and Apolenka are seen testifying against him, having been encouraged to speak up about their own experiences once they saw that somebody had taken the first step. Glenn was sentenced to 10 years in prison and barred from ever working with young athletes again.
Longwood Academy and Justine’s future.
It was a happy ending for Longwood. The director who’d protected Glenn and tried her best to keep Justine quiet stepped down, leaving genial ally Rishi in charge, signalling a positive future.
As Justine told love interest Mikki after Glenn’s sentencing, she left the academy. She’s last seen along with ever-more-famous tennis star Renee, working with young people as a tennis coach, changing the game for the better.