Pure episode 1 review: frank, funny and boundary-pushing

Channel 4’s Pure is a bold comedy-drama led by shock, laughs and a compelling lead performance. Spoilers…

This review contains spoilers.

On paper, the closing monologue from 24-year-old Marnie in episode one of Pure could read like a suicide note. “People here don’t care what I do… I could do anything and no-one would even notice me. I’m anonymous, a nobody, a stranger.” As performed by new talent Charly Clive, those words are jubilant. London’s doesn’t-give-a-shit attitude is liberating to Marnie. It’s somewhere she and her aberrant thought patterns can go unnoticed

Marnie, as episode one’s soundtrack reminds us, is not like everybody else. Since adolescence, her brain has been playing her unwelcome X-rated movies she can’t switch off. On loop. Featuring people, animals and things—her parents, bus drivers, Lorraine Kelly’s shoes—that few would welcome. “Not just sex, sex. Fucked up sex. Sex that gets you arrested sex.”

Pure stages Marnie’s illness with the help of nifty editing and a group of very game supporting artists who lose their clothes and inhibitions in the blink of an eye. At first it’s incongruous and funny: a coachload of pensioners bare all, a polite anniversary party becomes a Caligulan orgy… but it quickly becomes unsettling, and then suffocating. First to last, it’s never arousing.

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Marnie’s sexual thoughts aren’t titillating, they’re intrusive, disturbing and destructive. They’re a symptom of her OCD, not that she’s reached that diagnosis by the end of episode one.

By the end of episode one, Marnie has run away from her tiny Scottish hometown and moved into the cupboard-sized spare room of former school friend Shereen (Kiran Sonia Sawar). She’s attempted to pin down her sexuality by picking up stranger Amber (Niamh Algar) in a gay club. She’s deposited a puddle of Listerine-blue vomit on a London street. And she’s made friends with Amber’s housemate Joe (Anthony Welsh) in what would traditionally be considered a rom-com meet-cute if there were anything cute about Listerine-blue vomit.

She’s also set herself the goal of finding herself, even if—in her words—that makes her sound like a massive wanker.

Marnie’s words, written by Clique’s Kirstie Swain and inspired by Rose Cartwright’s 2015 memoir, are modern, comic and naturalistic. Her opening monologue delivered straight to camera YouTuber-style sets an intimate, confessional tone that lets viewers identify with her predicament. (Yes, we’ve all had thoughts like that, but no, we haven’t had them unstoppably recur.)

The vulnerable but determined voiceover makes Marnie easy to warm to, while her public clowning makes her fun to watch. Pure’s writing is accessible and entertaining, nimble enough to move between real-feeling desperation and self-aware laughs. It’s quite a feat.

Charly Clive is either a rare talent or especially well-directed here (by Lovesick’s Aneil Karia). Most likely, it’s both. It’s fitting that we meet Marnie on stage with a microphone, because Clive conveys the sense that in public, she’s always performing. Chatting someone up in a bar, or going through their cupboards for alcohol-as-anaesthetic, Marnie’s twitterpated, self-deprecating persona is a front. The real her is… well, that’s the point of coming-of-age drama, the real Marnie is still TBA.

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All episodes of Pure are available to stream now on All4. Read our interview with writer Kirstie Swain here.