your next binge watch: 'clique,' the new drama tackling female friendship, from 'skins' writer

We speak to Jess Brittain, creator of BBC Three’s new thriller tackling female friendship and the college class divide.

by Colin Crummy
03 March 2017, 4:45pm

Student debt might not sound like the most nail-biting way to underpin a new college drama, but in BBC Three's new series Clique, the mundane but debilitating pressures of contemporary undergrad life inform its edgiest conceits.

The show, a six-part series from former Skins writer Jess Brittain, follows best friends and freshmen Holly (newcomer Synnøve Karlsen) and Georgia (The Fall's Aisling Franciosi) as they set up camp in college halls at an Edinburgh university.

Things begin in a Fresh Meat enough way; there's a party which the geeky girl next door disapproves of; there is necking of girls, boys, and shots; there is the inevitable hot mess (Georgia) and the sensible friend (Holly), who ends up hooking up with her pal's crush at the end of it all (oopsies).

But Clique's creator Jess Brittain wanted to push the college experience beyond the kind of drama that's de rigeur in Hollyoaks. She wanted to explore that period of life where you are out in the world for the first time alone and trying to figure out who you are. "I had a weird time at uni myself and felt shame around that," the 28-year-old creator of Clique says about the genesis for her story. "[It's] not really the thing you admit to, not having the best years of your life, or making friends from life, or discovering the thing you most love in the world as your career. I didn't really achieve any of those things, so that was really discombobulating. I was interested in unpacking why that might have been."

In Clique, while Holly and Georgia are trying to come to grips with uni life, they encounter a cabal of girls who appear to have it made. Georgia, the YOLO, thirst driven half of the duo, immediately decides she wants in on a scene dominated by privileged southerners intent on hedonism and getting ahead in the Scottish capital. To do so, they are all part of a choice intern program organized by university lecturer Jude MacDermid, a woman who rejects the party line on modern feminism in favor of a more bracing, alpha female approach. Georgia — keen to get ahead of her smarter best friend — leaps at the chance to hang with the elites. Holly is more suspect, and when she encounters one of them in peril, begins to investigate why. Here, the show enters darker territory, its female writing team tackling sexual politics, sexual assault, and suicide.

But it's the divide between the university haves and have nots, and the risks someone will take to cross over, which turns the drama of Clique up several notches. It is no coincidence the show is set in Edinburgh, a town-and-gown city. Privilege, the power it bestows, and the desire to be part of it, all play their part in Clique. Again, Brittain was inspired by her own college experience. "I was encountering a lot of people who absolutely knew who they were and what they were doing," Jess states. "I went to Leeds which attracted an incredibly self-confident, quite privileged, quite experienced, adult group of women."

Entry to the world of the privileged elite may come down to class, connections, or new money. The point, says Brittain, is how it affects your chances of success from here on in. "It's about coming from a place where the stakes aren't so terrifying," she continues. "The costs of going to uni are sometimes so high there are people paralyzed by the [issue] of taking the wrong degree, not getting a good degree, they are really screwed. That worry doesn't apply to the more privileged students; they trust that things will fall into place and they usually do."

In Brittain's fictional version of college life, MacDermid's intern scheme allows access to a world Holly and Georgia have never experienced and may not be equipped for. It's a world where posh boys run riot, business elites offer dangerous incentives, and things turn more than a little nasty. By the end of episode one, the cost of trying to run with the elites begins to reveal itself.

College is, as any prospectus tells you, the place you learn the rules of life. "It's where you learn the game," Jess says. "Clique is two girls having to learn that game in a very extreme way."

Clique starts streaming on BBC Three Sunday March 4.


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