Review: True Stories: Guilty Pleasures, Channel 4, March 2011

Julie Moggan’s True Stories: Guilty Pleasures gives a unique 360-degree view of the Mills and Boon romance. Told through the viewpoints of three readers, one male model (with over 200 covers to his name) and one writer, we are given a touching insight into the realities, fantasies, and individual expectations of finding and keeping love.

The three readers (Shumita in India, Hiroko in Japan and Shirley in England) have been either let down by past encounters, raw and exposed by betrayal, or yearning for excitement in an otherwise satisfactory relationship. In a sense, their real lives match the narrative arc of the books they read.

The readers are very articulate; they express their desires and expectations of a relationship with extreme clarity, often setting high standards – standards that have been set by the fictional scenarios they read. Fiction sometimes acts as a catalyst for their lives, such as Shumita getting back together with her husband, Hiroko taking up dancing lessons and eventually persuading her husband to take part, or Shirley finding stability after a prior rocky relationship. When we see Shirley with her new husband, who is going through a bout of depression, it’s clear that love means supporting someone when they are at their lowest.

Back at the dance studio in Japan, the reality of tight finances threatens to overshadow Hiroko’s newly found joy. The spontaneity of taking up dancing to add some excitement to her marriage now seems misjudged to the point where events become ‘painful.’

In India, Shumita asks ‘what happened to the promises these books made to me?’ She is coming to terms with separating from her husband for good, and says that the books ‘have made me see the complexity of my life,’ concluding that ‘real life starts where the book ends.’

The most intriguing viewpoint, however, comes from male model Stephen, who finds love first by learning to accept himself whilst searching through the stack of self-help books by his bedside. His new relationship ‘will become what it will become,’ he says, not wishing to push the early, giddy days of love.

But this is more than a documentary about readers’ lives. There is much for the aspiring writer to take away from what initially seems like a snapshot of a booming industry, but it is actually a wonderful account of how writing, and storytelling, can provide escapism and hope.


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