The Girl from Plainville: A teenage friendship, a suicide and a mission to untangle the truth

Elle Fanning is excellent as real-life Michelle Carter, whose relationship with Conrad Roy ended tragically

There are many ways in which The Girl from Plainville (Channel 4, Wednesday, 10pm) could go wrong. This brittle and absorbing drama retells the real-life case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy III, teens from suburban Massachusetts who struck up an intense relationship, largely via text messages, and bonded over their mutual struggles with depression. It ended tragically in 2014 when Roy, who was 18, died by suicide and Carter, who was 17, was convicted of manslaughter.

In the public imagination the story has been simplified to a straightforward one of emotional manipulation. Roy (played by Colton Ryan) was suicidal. And, across their many intense conversions, Carter twice urged him to kill himself. (Roy abandoned the first attempt.) Drill down, however, and the details are inevitably messier. This eight-part series attempts to untangle the tragedy.

In part one, however, there is a sense that the makers of The Girl from Plainville do not know how to get beyond the headlines. We see little of Roy, who is found dead in the first scene. (He later appears in a flashback, leaving a heartfelt video message.) The focus is therefore on Carter, who is given a gleaming, slightly manic interiority by the excellent Elle Fanning as her text messages to Roy come to the attention of a local cop (Kelly AuCoin).

Did she push Roy over the edge? Were they codependents locked in a terrible spiral? Was she the enabler, manipulator or victim? These are complicated questions, and The Girl from Plainville is not sure how to answer them.


Initially, it doesn’t even want to confront them. Instead, the opening chapter of this traumatic saga unfolds as a sort of through-the-looking-glass Dawson’s Creek, where small-town American life is revealed to be a repository of unspoken horrors.

Fanning seems to sit on the fence about how she should play Carter. Sometimes she looks out at the world from within a distorting bubble of frailty. Elsewhere there is a suggestion that her delusions are mixed with a manipulative streak. In the background are her struggles with mental illness, as obliquely referenced by her mother, Gail (Stranger Things’ Cara Buono).

How accurately this reflects the reality of what happened is hard to say if you are coming to the series with little background knowledge. But the show goes to lengths to demonstrate how Roy’s loss was felt, particularly by his mother (a wrenching Chloë Sevigny).

Suicide and prestige TV are an uneasy mix. Sometimes you wonder if a documentary treatment – not the sensational Netflix variety – might better serve the case. Still, The Girl From Plainville is sincere in its mission to get the truth. With her panicky tears and nervy demeanour, Fanning delivers a powerful portrait of a young woman who feels she has done something terrible and has buried her guilt under layers of denial.