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Purposeful plots

19 January, 2024

Film and television can change our perspectives, impact our opinions, and spark conversation. They’ve long been a powerful tool for behaviour change (we make good use of them in our own multi-channel behaviour change programme SKY Girls). ITV’s latest hit ‘Mr Bates vs the Post Office has served as a great reminder of just how much good storytelling can achieve. By dramatising one of the widest miscarriages of justice in British history—where postal workers fought accusations of financial mismanagement due to a faulty computer system, Horizon—the series brought renewed public attention to an issue that had been widely covered in the news over the past two decades. 

Director Gwyneth Hughes rightly emphasises the unique power of drama to engage audiences, allowing them to ‘be there when it happens’ rather than passively consuming accounts in journalism or documentaries. This immersive quality heightens emotional engagement, making it a potent tool for communicating complex topics and societal challenges. 

For those looking to learn more about how to use storytelling, Dr. Rory Padfield has developed the Critical Sustainability Stories Tool (CriSS), which adds a structured approach to purpose-led filmmaking. Designed for professional storytellers, CriSS comprises six key topic areas—Critical Activity, Audience, Storytelling Journey, Context, Quality of Information, and Justice—each with open-ended questions related to sustainability and climate change. This tool serves as an organising framework, prompting storytellers to reflect on the desired impact of their narratives.  

In a landscape saturated with entertainment options, the ability to merge entertainment with meaningful narratives positions film and television as influential tools for shaping discourse and fostering positive societal change. The stage is set, and as we anticipate the next compelling narrative, it’s clear that the impact of purpose-driven storytelling extends far beyond the screen. 

By Meg Seckel

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