In his latest drama, Daniel Mays plays a walking invitation to an Asbo. Best known for his roles in Vera Drake, Atonement and Jeremy Dyson's black comedy series Funland, he plays Stevie, a racist thug who uses his pre-teen children as drugs couriers. Stevie is one of the central characters in White Girl, a potent new BBC2 film scripted by Abi Morgan, the writer responsible for the Bafta-winning Sex Traffic and for Brick Lane.
Mays observes that Stevie represents a particularly repellent, bigoted strain of British society. "At one point, Stevie talks about a pizzeria he went to in Bradford and says, 'Osama bin Laden made our pizza.' That's typical. Some people think that all Muslims are terrorists. There is a lot of ignorance about religion in this country."
White Girl is showing as part of BBC2's "White" season about the experience of the white working-class. A thought-provoking exploration of Islam, it is told through the eyes of 11-year-old Leah (the compelling newcomer Holly Kenny). She, her two siblings and her mother Debbie (Anna Maxwell Martin, star of Bleak House) are forced to flee from the abusive Stevie in Leeds and seek refuge in a new home in Bradford. When they arrive, they are shocked to discover that they are the only white people in the area.
At first, Leah is resistant to her new surroundings. She walks out of a Muslim assembly at school, and complains to the head: "We're Catholic, and we want our own assembly. If you don't, that's racist and I'm telling everyone!"
But gradually Leah is won over. Islam provides a peace that stands in stark contrast to the chaos at home. Leah moves in with her Muslim school friend, Yasmin. And, much to Debbie's horror, she starts to wear the hijab and attend the local mosque.
The makers of White Girl are hoping to overturn the stereotypical depiction of Islam. "Abi has the boldness to confront these issues and lets the audience make up its own mind," says Mays. "If we all just bury our heads in the sand, then that won't help anyone."
'White Girl' is on BBC2 at 9pm on MondayReuse content