Belfast Telegraph

Review: Grim documentary into Peru drug smuggler Michaella McCollum offers little insight

Michaella documentary fails to help us understand woman behind bars

By Joe Nawaz

The girl with the most televised bun outside of the Great British Bake-off was the subject of the not terribly insightful "Michaella, Peru and the Drug Run" last night.

"Hedonism, money and the complex politics of the war on drugs" was what RTE's much trumpeted exposé on the hapless Michaella McCollum promised.

Really all it did was reinforce all the prejudices we – the great moral majority – have about this seemingly feckless, impressionable girl whose "dream" was to "dance at a top class nightclub" – whatever one of those is.

The interviews with her mother Norah and her sister Samantha as they visited Michaella in prison in Lima were understandably emotionally fraught. But really the narrative of two girls looking for a fast buck and getting rumbled with cocaine was only of note to us because Michaella came from Dungannon. That is: she was OUR rubbish drugs mule. More rubbish still was the desperate need to convey Ibiza as an island of unlicensed debauchery where people came "for two weeks of life without rules". Except for all the rules that they have of course.

Again and again, with almost comic repetition, and with the funereal gravitas of somebody reading out a list of war dead, the narrator kept reminding us how depressingly naïve and blithely unaware of the world beyond the end of her nose McCollum was.

"For Michaella, promotions work was only meant to be a stepping stone" the narrator intoned, forgetting to add "to smuggling high grade cocaine" for some reason. But it's what everybody watching was thinking. We all know the story by now. She eventually turned up in Lima airport with 11kg of uncut cocaine and a new Scottish friend and is now doing six years, eight months in Peruvian clink.

They weren't really threatened by a drugs cartel – they did it for the dough, like many impressionable or greedy people before them.

And with a grim irony, Michaella's finally in gainful employment, albeit behind bars in the prison's hairdressing salon.

Female drug mules, it seems, are filling up the prisons (they generally conform to a type – working class, limited education, big families) and most Peruvian natives incarcerated for much smaller misdemeanors will be doing 18-20 years.

But perhaps the last word should go to the Peruvian prosecutor who gloriously deadpanned: "I always say, being friends with somebody who works in drug trafficking – it's not good."

Three stars

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