Marnie is not okay. She’s had x-rated thoughts for the last 3 672 days and she doesn’t know why, or what they mean. “It’s like The Sixth Sense,” she says, “but I don’t see dead people, I see naked ones.”
When she jumps on a coach to London, she doesn’t know a soul, not even herself, but she hopes to find a name for what’s wrong with her self-sabotaging brain, and build a new life in the city.
Now streaming on Showmax, the six-part British comedy drama has an 85% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “An essential dark comedy about mental health, Pure is a breakout smash,” says NME. Times (UK) calls it “clever, witty and, oddly given the content, sometimes rather innocent and charming,” while The Guardian says it’s “brave, bold and barely short of a miracle.”
Through the eyes of its candid central character, the series examines a mental illness known as Pure O, which is characterised by repetitive intrusive thoughts – hers being graphically sexual in nature.
(Warning: there’s lots of nudity and lewdity, and it’s definitely for adults only, but while it is often funny, you very quickly get how not fun it is for the person whose brain is being colonised by unwelcome visions of naked strangers, colleagues and even family members.)
More sexy, adults-only series
The show is based on the memoir of the same name by Rose Cartwright, who explains: “Pure O refers to the purely obsessional kind of OCD, where you’re not acting out physical compulsions, but you’re performing compulsions in your brain, like reassurances, rumination, making mental checklists. So it’s OCD like any other OCD, but it’s much more hidden.”
Translating her own experiences into a story has been liberating, the author says. “When I realised that I was in possession of a story that had never been told before, it was irresistible. I just had to write it. I knew that this was something that was being experienced by hundreds of thousands of people in secret, and I just wanted to blow the roof off it.”
And blow the roof off they have. As Daily Telegraph says of Pure, “In 30 minutes, it removes as much stigma as it does clothing.”
Pure stars break-out newcomer Charly Clive as Marnie; BAFTA nominee Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror) as Charlie; Anthony Welsh (Fleabag, The Girl with All the Gifts) as Joe; and Niamh Algar (MotherFatherSon and the upcoming Ridley Scott sci-fi drama Raised by Wolves, which was shot in Cape Town) as Amber.
Clive, Algar and Cole have all been named Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow – following in the footsteps of the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Emily Blunt and Emilia Clarke. Algar and writer Kirstie Swain were both named BAFTA Breakthrough Brits in 2019.
Marnie is the first-ever TV role for Clive, a stand-up comedian. Less than a minute into the first episode, it’s easy to see how she got here. The critics agree. “Clive’s performance is masterly; she captures the absolute normality of Marnie without ever losing the sense of equally absolute desperation as she wrestles with her mental monster,” says The Guardian, while NME says, “Clive’s sensitive portrayal of Marnie is brilliant, juxtaposing moments of comedy, total heartbreak and emotional turmoil.”
“Marnie’s great fear is that she’s in some way a deviant or a pervert, so it’s really important to be able to shed light on this sort of thing.” – Charly Clive
Clive herself believes the show’s humour makes the subject more accessible. “I think the ratio of comedy to drama is pretty evenly distributed,” she says. “I don’t think it’s ever making light of the subject, or making OCD the punchline, it’s just the circumstance within the comedy, rather than the subject of it.”
Swain, who grew up with crippling anxiety and panic disorder herself, agrees that comedy is essential to the series. “Mental health causes enough distress in the world without our show adding to it, so the comedy aspect was really important to me. You can find humour in devastation, and you should, because with laughter comes hope. It’s a release. If you get it right, you can be funny and sad in the same breath and it can be kind of wonderful.”
Pure hopes to further the conversation about mental illness. “Most people, if you say OCD to them, will think of people washing their hands a lot, or counting, or not stepping on cracks on the pavement,” says Clive. “I think the show will really shed light on that and make discussions a lot more varied about it. Also hopefully it will help anyone with Pure O to realise that other people have it and struggle with it and live with it, and live very normal lives with it. Marnie’s great fear is that she’s in some way a deviant or a pervert, so it’s really important to be able to shed light on this sort of thing.”