National domestic abuse charity, Refuge, has partnered with McCann to launch a short film starring award-winning actor Maxine Peake, drawing attention to the shocking rise in violence against women during lockdown.
Peake stars alongside actor, Lex Shrapnel, in Surfaces, which tells the story of Alix and Richard, a married couple in their 40s who started a whirlwind romance five years ago, but which quickly descended into physical and mental abuse towards Alix.
The 11-minute film written by McCann Bristol's Group Executive Creative Director, Jon Elsom, and directed by Steve Reeves, was filmed entirely over a real conference call: lockdown has just started, but Alix isn't at home and Richard is "worried" about her whereabouts.
After two days of unsuccessfully trying to reach her, Richard finally gets through on a video call. At first, his wife seems cool and distant, saying she's simply left him. But all is not as it seems. The conversation gradually reveals the horror of Richard's controlling coercion and abuse throughout their relationship. As the story unfolds, we understand that Alix has lived her marriage to Richard in lockdown – isolated and in fear. Ironically, it is the Covid-19 lockdown and her one hour of exercise that provides her with the opportunity she needs to escape to a refuge. Alix has finally found safety and expert support and is taking the first steps to rebuild her life free from violence and abuse.
Since the PM's request for people to stay at home in March, calls and contacts to Refuge's National Domestic Abuse Helpline have recently rocketed by 66 per cent, with visits to its website rising ten-fold. "This short film is a stark reminder of what lockdown has been like, and continues to be like, for victims of domestic abuse," says Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge. "As restrictions slowly lift and an end to lockdown is in sight, it's important to remember women across the country will continue to experience abuse.
"Women watching Surfaces will not only identify with Maxine's brilliant depiction of an abused woman, but they will also know that they not alone. Refuge is here around the clock, providing specialist, confidential, non-judgmental support. If, like Alix, you are frightened of your partner, reach out and contact us."
Jon Elsom adds: "The insidious menace of domestic abuse is especially heart-breaking right now, with so many women and children trapped during lockdown. I hope this film helps spread awareness that even if things seem normal, you can't always trust the surface of things. Each of us might know someone being abused, and not realise it. But there is a way out. There is help."
The film is a follow-up to the spectacularly successful Turn To Us campaign created by McCann Bristol for Refuge in 2019. It featured reversible poems that told two opposing stories depending on which way they were read. Top to bottom, they depicted family bliss. But turned on their head, they reflected the reality of families under siege from abusive men.