BBC Three’s poignant coming-of-age comedy drama In My Skin is an insightful take on growing up in a turbulent household while navigating the unrelenting pressures of being a teenager. This five-part series introduces us to 16-year-old Bethan (played by Gabrielle Creevy) as she struggles to fit in at school as her body and mind come to terms with growing up.
Written and created by Kayleigh Llewellyn, In My Skin handles its complex protagonist delicately, never rushing to judge her for actions, instead offering us insight into what it’s like for a young girl to live with a mother who’s struggling with bipolar disorder.
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In My Skin expertly uses dark comedy to tackle its difficult subject matter. Bethan’s flippant, casual exterior is a carefully constructed defense to show the world she’s fairly well-adjusted. She struggles at home with her unstable mother and her father who spends most days drinking in front of the television, unbothered by his family. At 16, Bethan has to navigate school, a difficult household and her confusion surrounding her sexuality. While she’s got a small group of friends, she finds herself drawn to the ‘popular’ girl Poppy, not just because she might offer her an escape, a means to finally ‘fit in’ but because of her budding romantic feelings for her.
A complex, layered female protagonist defines In My Skin
Llewellyn constructs a distinct world for the viewer in In My Skin, a world where our protagonist is not just a stereotypical teenager, instead she is a consistently complex character who is revealed to us in careful bits during the series.
There are no coming-of-age cliches with a cloying sentimentality designed to make the viewer sympathetic – Bethan and her world are stark and gritty. In My Skin’s realism makes it infinitely more interesting. As a protagonist, Bethan is far from likeable but as the show progresses we come to understand her motivations, we come to see her for who she really is – a teenager trying her best to adjust to a world that can’t quite seem to give her a break.
There is a sense of loneliness that Bethan embodies because of her inability to truly connect with anyone in her life, there’s so much she has to stay, but there’s no one to really listen. Her refuge then becomes her poetry that we get glimpses of when a poem she writes for English class gets selected for a poetry anthology. A gifted writer, Bethan takes refuge in her words.
Class consciousness is an integral part of In My Skin, Bethan comes from a working-class home and is constantly trying to prove to her friends and classmates that she’s from a wealthy family that can afford the best. Her insecurity surrounding her social status manifests itself in pathological lying – Bethan finds herself fabricating information about where her house is, what her parents do and what kind of life she leads.
Bethan’s dissonant actions can often feel both insincere and insensitive, but they’re the result of a complicated character whose only way to make sense of her difficult life is by constructing a fantasy for the outside world to believe. Her relationship with her mother is perhaps the most fraught with tension as she takes on the role of a caregiver as her mother battles frequent psychotic breakdowns. Bethan wants to help her mother but she’s also painfully aware of how inconsistent and unpredictable her condition is. Despite her best efforts, Bethan knows she’s always going to fall short.
In In My Skin, while her classmates and friends obsess over relationships and parties, Bethan’s familial conflict and her inability to feel ‘normal’ offer sensitive insight into the dual lives teenagers often find themselves leading. There is a fierce battle between understanding who you are and what the world wants you to be. At school, Bethan is bullied and harassed based on a rumour that she’s a lesbian which she vehemently denies but she’s aware that her sexuality is something she’s still coming to terms with. Her crush on her classmate Poppy makes her realise that her feelings for girls are real and valid but she also knows that she may never be accepted for who she is.
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Bethan wrestles with these turbulent emotions that informs her journey through the show. In My Skin is evocative in the way that it explores the psychology of a troubled teenager without being condescending. Creevy’s standout performance adds immense depth to In My Skin, infusing it with a distinct charm. It is an important narrative and a character study that prioritises the experience of a queer female while addressing mental health, class, bullying and the seemingly unending heartbreak that accompanies growing up.
Featured image source: Chortle.co.uk