My Mad Fat DiaryThere is a tangible moment in every teenage life when possession of an intact hymen becomes a blushing V-shaped brand of immaturity seared into your consciousness. For Rae that moment is now. Her virginity has become as much of a burden as her sixteen stone frame and her cumbersome insecurity. In the summer of 1996 the really real world revolves around the Seattle sound and the outcome of the Britpop battle. All the good grungy girls and boys thread beads onto their DMs and sit down at James’ command. Kurt Cobain lingers as the voice of a bereft generation and Rae just got released from a psychiatric ward. Luckily her Mum has told everyone she’s been ‘finding herself’ in France. So everything’s going to be fine. Not!

Tom Bidwell’s My Mad Fat Diary journals Rae’s first steps away from the hospital and her metamorphosis from outpatient to fledgling cool kid. Based upon Rae Earl’s real-life diaries, and subsequent book My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary, and embellished and dramatized by Tom, it is a painfully funny and endearingly honest show that should be screened to every kid and kid-at-heart in the land to remind us: this too shall pass. 24-year-old Sharon Rooney, in her first major role, takes the lead alongside a charismatic young supporting cast. Sharon was in close contact with author Rae throughout and that access, that awareness, combined with her nuanced, sensitive, performance contributes much of the magic that makes it a delightful experience to watch.

Rae’s plan to curl up in her childhood bedroom, under Noel Gallagher’s reassuring monobrow, and hide until the world goes away, is blown apart by the sputtering exhaust fanfare of mopeds bearing her ex-best friend and her gang of cool new mates. Chloe (Jodie Comer) is the pretty one, the skinny one, the one the boys notice. Chloe is the one who reminds Rae quite how much she hates herself. But Chloe is begrudgingly willing to grant her entry to this other-life, she’s willing to let her tag along on their big night out, all Rae has to do is be cool…

It may be hard for the youth of today to imagine but before Facebook and the right of every man, woman and child to bear mobile phones, you had to walk straight into the heart of the pack to discover that your friends had decided to hate you today. Rae crosses the threshold of her local into the sheer unknown – a social life. Rather than embrace the art of being a wallflower, as Chloe advises, Rae challenges arrogant pretty boy Finn (Nico Mirallegro) on his musical expertise and makes her presence felt with an inspired jukebox selection – a tune that makes everyone sit up and take notice of the newcomer. She’s also fallen hard and fast in love, or more precisely in lust, with Archie, the gentle spectacle wearing one. It’s been a big night and it’s only the start, big things are happening to Rae’s so-called life, whether she likes it or not.

In order to accommodate the anecdotal style of the source material much of the narrative of My Mad Fat Diary is shared in sessions with Rae’s new therapist Kester (Ian Hart). He made quite an impression during their uncomfortable first meeting, flinging pictures from his office walls out of the window, at Rae’s behest, and encouraging her to confide her hopes and fears in a diary when she feels alone. Kester plays an integral role in Rae’s odyssey from self-harm to self-confidence and their dynamic is a real highlight of the show. Ian Hart’s Kester is a mess – not Robin Williams’ insightful widower provoking out the good from Will – but an actual life-still-in-crisis, passing-out-drunk mess. The relationship he has with Rae is fraught – he is combative, irritated and intrusive. Rae still has one foot back in the unit and returns for toilet stall counselling sessions with the anorexic friend she left behind. Tix looks up to Rae – sees the champion in her – and is our window to look back at a spell in hospital that remains largely unexplored.

Everything that is fine and good and articulate about My Mad Fat Diary is encapsulated in the beginning of the second episode. To a pertinent Radiohead accompaniment, Rae unzips and steps out of her skin and takes the hated flesh outside in the garden to burn. The scene could have been schmaltzy or melodramatic in the wrong hands, but instead it grants a perspective on the utter hopelessness she feels. It is painful, insightful and very, very, real. And therein lies the beauty of My Mad Fat Diary – it remembers what it was to be sixteen in the ‘90s – a very different time to be a teen than now. There is a perfect recall of the “Oh-my-god-me-too!” conversations, panning for serendipity in every coincidence. And of how much closer we still were to our childhoods then.

Rae and Chloe’s bedrooms are a clever illustration of how far the girls have grown apart. In Rae’s room though The Stone Roses have pride of place and The Catcher in the Rye sits by her bedside, there are Care Bears on her single duvet. Chloe’s classic teen room has a grown-up colour scheme and a real sofa, Rae’s wallpaper has ragdolls keeping a forlorn eye on her misdeeds. Rae nearly died in her room and Chloe undergoes an abortion in hers. There is little common ground left between them. Yet Rae is the one who turns away from a weekend alone with the gang to stay by Chloe’s side and Chloe is the one in whom Rae chooses to confide the truth about her time away. The unique complexities of female friendship – the casual flip-flop between cruelty and kindness – are cleverly inferred and relative newcomer Jodie Comer holds her own in scenes with talented Rooney.

Rae’s crush on Archie soon makes way for deeper feeling towards another member of the group. After missing out on their last jaunt for Chloe’s sake, she defies her mum’s wishes, and Kester’s advice, to join them for a rave at a countryside manor. The strength of her feelings blind Rae to any other obligations and the night has consequences which wreck her fledgling confidence and endanger her closest friend. The delicacy with which the new relationship is explored and the sweetly awkward way the pair communicate was another highlight. A scene in which he traces a message on a bewildered Rae’s hand actually gave me butterflies. There is none of the sexual posturing and experimentation of Skins here nor the bawdy self-awareness of The Inbetweeners. Ignore any comparisons drawn and instead cast your mind back to the television of yore, when Angela was in love with Jordan Catalano and you couldn’t believe Julia and Justin broke up.

The only weak link in the series is a slight lean towards the ‘whacky’ in the antics of Rae’s mum (Claire Rushbrook). Their interactions are touching and heartfelt but the secret boyfriend subplot hit a wrong note for me. The It’s a Wonderful Life sequence in the final episode was also an unnecessary deviation from the narrative. I understand that, perhaps, the writers felt a counterpoint was needed to the darkness of Rae’s reality but it seemed a tired gimmick in an otherwise impeccable series. The DVD extras reveal quite how much fun the cast had making the show and their enthusiasm shines through in every scene. I was particularly tickled by how enthusiastic Jordan Murphy, who played motor-mouthed instigator Chop, was to go raving. Fans of the original book will also be interested to see the frank exchange between Rae and Tom.

You don’t have to have been an overweight suicidal teen to relate to My Mad Fat Diary because this is not a show about a fat girl who wants to die. You don’t need scars laddering your arms to relate and you certainly won’t need to sleep in plus sized PJs to understand. Rae is an everygirl and for that reason her story is universal. If you have been sixteen and lived to tell the tale then this story is absolutely for you. My Mad Fat Diary is a clever, funny story of survival and it deserves every single one of the five stars that decorate this review. It is an exceptional piece of television and a lovely reminder of the horrible exhilaration of being sixteen.


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You can own My Mad Fat Diary on DVD from 25th February 2013 or watch it on