Channel 4’s I Am… is a female-led drama anthology series of stand-alone programmes, starring some of Britain’s leading actors. And, while season two’s I Am Danielle shines a spotlight on society’s so-called “nice guys”, there’s so much more to it than that…
In I Am Danielle, our eponymous hero (played to perfection by Letitia Wright) is a successful photographer, and seemingly wholly focused on her career. Her roommate Tara (Sophia Brown), however, is desperate – genuinely desperate – for Danielle to meet someone.
“What’s your idea of the perfect person or relationship?” she asks her friend.
“Well for me that is just someone that’s genuine, kind, and willing to do life with me,” replies Danielle cautiously. “Someone that’s sensitive to how I feel, and someone that loves me genuinely for me… they won’t look in another direction, they have a genuine love for me and I have a genuine love for them. Like, you journey together… and you accept each other’s flaws, and you work through it together.”
“Dani, your standards are so high,” says Tara in exasperation. “This guy’s gonna have to be a superhero.”
Dating is hard, the two women agree – although Danielle doesn’t love that Tara is always trying to find her happiness in other people. “I just don’t want you to settle for less,” she tells her friend, suggesting that she follow Danielle’s lead and wait for that ‘perfect’ person.
Tara, however, isn’t so sure; she thinks putting yourself out there, and taking risks, is key to finding The One.
When Danielle meets the handsome, respectful and oh-so-charming Michael (CJ Beckford) at one of her photoshoots, it seems at first as if she has wholeheartedly proven that her dating technique works; the male model truly does seem perfect.
They meet for coffee – first as friends, but then as something deeper. And, as Danielle cautiously opens her heart and soul to Michael, they begin to forge the sort of relationship that gets you talking about… well, about lasting love. About marriage. About a whole new future together, full of exciting possibilities.
“I feel proper happy,” Danielle admits, when Tara quizzes her about the blossoming romance. Then, in true romcom style, they begin dancing and singing along to Whitney Houston’s I’m Every Woman.
If this were a romcom, of course, this is no doubt where the story would conclude; Danielle has found true love, and she’s going to live happily ever after. Real life, however, doesn’t work like that. And, when Danielle decides to go Instagram official with her new beau, everything changes.
Shortly after sharing a photo of herself and Michael in a tender embrace, Natalie (Simona Brown), an old college friend of Danielle’s, comes forward with a disturbing secret.
“I just feel like you need to know,” she tells Danielle nervously. “About six years ago, me and Michael were hanging out and… we started to, y’know, have sex, and it started to hurt, and so I told him to stop. I told him a few times, Danielle, I told him to stop. But he just wouldn’t stop, and he just didn’t stop until he wanted to. So…
“Michael raped me.”
Natalie doesn’t want Danielle to experience what she’s been through, she says. She doesn’t understand why Michael hasn’t told her about the incident already, because she assumes it must be impacting him and his relationships as much as it has done to her. She doesn’t think he’s a bad person, because he’s done a bad thing. She just wants Danielle to know the truth.
It’s a grim reminder that things aren’t always what they seem; that the so-called “nice guy” you’ve been dating may not be so “nice” after all. And, for all those viewers who watched Promising Young Woman earlier this year, it’s all too easy to assume that, when Danielle rushes to confront Michael, their encounter will end in tragedy, violence and horror.
Instead, though, we are served up an important lesson in accountability; Michael, the moment he hears the name ‘Natalie’, is sent rocketing back in time to that moment in his life. He acknowledges himself for who he really is, and his actions for what they truly were: consent was withdrawn during a sexual encounter, yet he continued. He raped Natalie.
Michael is keen to “do the right thing” and turns himself over to the police. He does this, of course, hoping to save his relationship with Danielle – but, while she admits that she loves him, she insists that she can’t be with him. Not anymore.
Without accountability, there can be no moving forward. In this striking episode of I Am, though, Michael’s decision to take responsibility for his actions – and Danielle’s unwavering acceptance of Natalie’s story – allows for a somewhat happy ending. Natalie has found strength in voicing what’s happened to her; Michael has found some form of redemption in accepting his role as the villain of her story.
Meanwhile, our hero walks away from the man she once deemed ‘perfect’ with something not unlike a smile on her face. She returns to work and continues smashing it at her career. She is able to move forward, to forge new hopes and dreams. And, although the screen fades to black there, we have hope that Danielle – who has endured something worse than the broken heart she always feared she’d be left with if she ever allowed herself to be vulnerable with a man – will find the courage to open herself up to love once again.
Because, as Tara says, all we can do is keep trying.
All three episodes of I Am… season two can be streamed now on All 4.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help and support, you can call the Rape Crisis national helpline on 0808 802 9999 (open 12pm - 2.30pm and 7pm - 9.30pm daily). You can also find your nearest Rape Crisis centre here or visit the website for more information.
Images: Channel 4
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.
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