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Dustbin Baby
Approx. run time 90 minutes
Genre Family drama
Written by Helen Blakeman (film), Jacqueline Wilson (novel)
Directed by Juliet May
Produced by Julia Ouston
Starring Dakota Blue Richards, Juliet Stevenson
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Original channel BBC One
Release date 21 December 2008 (television)
12 January 2009 (DVD)

Dustbin Baby is a 2008 BBC television film first broadcast on 21 December 2008, based on Jacqueline Wilson's novel of the same name. It stars Dakota Blue Richards as April, a troubled teenager who was abandoned in a dustbin as a baby, and Juliet Stevenson as Marion Bean, April's adoptive mother. David Haig stars as Elliot, Marion's friend and colleague. The screenplay was written by Helen Blakeman, and deals with themes including maternal bonding, bullying, and youth crime. The story revolves around April running away on her fourteenth birthday, while Marion searches for her. April's life is recounted in flashbacks as she meets people and visits places that are significant to her. Both Jaqueline Wilson and critics responded positively to the film, and it was released on DVD on 12 January 2009. In November 2009, Dustbin Baby was awarded the International Emmy in the children and young people category. Helen Blakeman won a Children's BAFTA for her screenplay for Dustbin Baby, while the film itself was shortlisted for both the drama category and the Kids' Vote, but did not win either.



The film's screenplay was based on Jaqueline Wilson's novel Dustbin Baby, and was written by Helen Blakeman, who had previously worked on Pleasureland. Dustbin Baby was co-commissioned by CBBC and BBC One, and was produced by Kindle Entertainment, a production company specialised in children's television. According to The Guardian, the film was billed as "a key part of BBC1's Christmas family line-up".[1] Blakeman said that when she had read a copy of the novel, she "knew it was something [she] had to write".[2] The film's executive producers were Anne Brogan and Melanie Stokes for Kindle, with Sue Nott as executive producer for CBBC. The producer was Julia Ouston.[3]

Stevenson said she was attracted to the part of Marion as "it's very boring playing versions of yourself", and the fact that she does have a 14 year old daughter.[4] Though the "gritty realism" of Wilson's novels was different to Richards's first role as Lyra Belacqua in The Golden Compass, Richards was happy to take on the character of April.[4] She said she "can really relate to the characters" in Wilson's novels, but found that April was "a really different person" to her.[4] David Haig filmed Dustbin Baby, along with three other television appearances that summer, to earn money to help support his family while he appeared in the play Loot. He described his role as a "snug cameo with a purpose".[5] Dustbin Baby was filmed over summer 2008,[5] and location filming included scenes at Hatfield House, where Marion takes April before adopting her, and where she and Elliot later work.[6] Before the completion of the filming, Wilson was quoted as saying she was "thrilled at the prospect of Dustbin Baby being brought to life by such a talented cast and production team. I am looking forward to seeing the end result immensely."[6] The BBC purposefully searched for an actress with Asperger syndrome to play the part of Poppy. Lizzy Clark, who has Asperger syndrome, auditioned for the part after her mother saw an advert on an autism website. Clark was selected to play Poppy, and the role in Dustbin Baby was her first experience of professional acting.[7] Clark was the first actress with Asperger syndrome to portray a fictional character with the condition. Clark, who has since campaigned with her mother against characters with conditions such as Asperger syndrome being played by actors without the condition, said "My Asperger's made some things on the film set difficult at first, like dealing with the sudden noise of the storyboard, but I was soon so focused on acting that I didn't notice anything else."[8]


The film begins on April's fourteenth birthday. April argues with Marion, her adoptive mother, after receiving earrings instead of a mobile phone as a gift. She then leaves for school, but chooses to play truant and visit the places she has lived. The story of her life is then told through flashbacks as she visits places pertinent to her- first, she visits Pat Williams, a woman who fostered April as a baby. She then visits the grave of Janet, a woman who April knew as "mummy" who committed suicide after her abusive husband left her. Meanwhile, Marion worries about April and she and her friend Elliot (with whom she works at a stately home) search for her. April then visits the now abandoned children's home, Sunnyholme Children's Home, where she had lived when she was younger. At the home, April had been cared for by a woman named Mo, and she befriended an older girl called Gina, who involved April in a burglary. While living there, April had also been bullied by a girl named Pearl. April subsequently pushed Pearl down a flight of stairs, after which she was sent to a boarding school, where Mrs Bean (Marion) taught her history. At the boarding school, April befriended her roommate Poppy, who had Asperger syndrome. After an attempt to run away, April was banned from extra-curricular activities. Instead, she would visit a local stately home with Marion. April then agreed to leave the boarding school to instead live with the retiring Marion.

April considers returning to Marion, but remembers there is a last place she wants to visit. She travels to the pizza parlour behind which she was found in a dustbin as a baby. Here, she finds a telephone number. She rings it, hoping it is her mother, but is disappointed to instead hear Frankie, the pizza boy who found her as a baby. Frankie meets April in the restaurant. Finally realising where April will be, Marion goes to the restaurant. When she arrives, April apologises. Marion gives April a new mobile phone and Marion, April and Frankie sit down for a meal. The film ends with April's voice saying that she may never find her real mother, but that that doesn't matter to her.


Blakeman said that she read the book in a single sitting, before "crying her eyes out".[2] The film includes the themes of bullying, youth crime, violence, unwanted pregnancy and teenage angst.[2] For Blakeman, April's "heartbreaking journey in searching for her real mum is also about being brave enough to let love in."[2] Tom Sutcliffe, writing for The Independent, spoke of the limits of taboo themes in family dramas, and said the film's "account of a life lived in care couldn't have had swearing, or casual drug use, and when a shadow fell over a child's bed at night, it wasn't the care-home manager coming to exercise some horrible droit de seigneur, as it might have been in an adult drama".[9] The film also addressed the theme of Asperger syndrome through the character of Poppy. The BBC claimed that Clark, who has the condition herself, was able to offer "a unique take" on the role.[7] Steveson summarised the themes of the film, saying that "At the centre of the story, Marion finds out that she loves this girl. And that is an amazing liberation when you discover someone more important to you than you are. That is what is incredible about becoming a parent – you care about your child more than you care about yourself."[4]

Stevenson described the character of Marion as "cranky, stubborn and lonely", saying that living alone has made her "become quite idiotic and eccentric". When the character of April arrives, Stevenson explains that "Marion has to go from nought to 80 in terms of parenting. There are lots of reasons she wouldn't get it right" which leads on to the guilt and anxiety that Marion suffers when April runs away.[4] Stevenson compared her own difficulties of parenting to Marion's, saying "it is easier for me than someone like Marion because I have had 14 years experience".[4] Richards spoke of the character of April, saying that "the residential schools and children's homes were completely different from my life. [April] doesn't feel connected to anybody and she struggles to know who she is".[4]


Wilson, after seeing an early screening of Dustbin Baby, said that it was the best ever film adaptation of her work.[2] Haig said that the film was his favourite of his summer projects, saying "it was a terrific story and very touchingly done. I think Juliet Stevenson was very funny and moving in it".[5] Critics also responded positively. In an article in The Times David Chater awarded the programme the TV choice of the day, describing it as "tremendous", and "the wonderful surprise of Christmas".[10] The Telegraph described the film as a "rare treat", as it is "something that teenagers and parents can watch together".[4] This view was a reflection of producer Anne Brogan's view. She said that the film was something "that parents and children will enjoy watching while giving them much to talk about".[3] Tom Sutcliffe, writing for The Independent, said Stevenson was "good as a woman who was far more comfortable in the past than the present", and that "her performance was more than matched by that of Dakota Blue Richards as April, mostly banked-down and wary but prone to sudden wild flashes of anger". He criticised some of the "implausabilities", saying that the plot was, at times, "a lot kinder than the world might have been", but said that "it still made you well up with its final reconciliation" with emotion that had been "honestly earned".[9] Euan Ferguson, in an article in The Guardian, said that the film "hooked and haunted", and added that "Stevenson played her part as a kind of updated Jean Brodie".[11] During its initial run on BBC One, Dustbin Baby was watched by 2.3 million viewers, giving it a 15.4% share of the audience.[12]

Awards and nominations

In 2009, Dustbin Baby was one of four films shortlisted for the International Emmy Award in the children and young people category at the 37th International Emmy Awards. The other nominated films were Lharn Poo Koo E-Joo (produced by Workpoint Entertainment), The Little Emperor's Christmas (produced by TV Globo) and Mille (produced by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation). The film was one of nine nominations for the UK, which had more than any other nation.[13] The film won the award, making it one of six International Emmys for the UK, snd one of three for the BBC, in 2009.[14] Dustbin Baby was also shortlisted for the British Academy Children's Awards in the drama category, along with The Sarah Jane Adventures (also by the BBC), S4C's Rhestr Nadolig Wil, and the online show following boyband US5.[15][16] The ceremony was held on 29 November at The London Hilton on Park Lane and hosted by Dick and Dom. Dustbin Baby lost out to Rhestr Nadolig Wil.[17] Blakeman was shortlisted for the British Academy Children's Award for best writer, thanks to her screenplay for Dustbin Baby,[18] and won.[17] The film was also entered into the BAFTA Kids' Vote in the television category. Children aged between seven and fourteen were able to vote for their favourite television show from a choice also featuring Blue Peter, Dani's House, Newsround, Prank Patrol, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Hannah Montana, Phineas & Ferb, iCarly and SpongeBob SquarePants.[19] The Kids' Vote was won by Hannah Montana.[17]

DVD release

Dustbin Baby was released on DVD on 12 January 2009,[20] by ITV DVD.[21] It was rated PG by the British Board of Film Classification, and was marketed with the tagline "April is about to lift the lid on her past".[21] The DVD also included a making-of feature entitled "Behind the Bin".[20]


Actor Role
Juliet Stevenson Marion Bean
Dakota Blue Richards April Johnson
David Haig Elliot
Poppy Lee Friar Hannah
George Bustin Baby April
Jenna Boyd Sandra
Saffron Coomber Cathy
Marika McKennell Tanya
Di Botcher Pat Williams
Lucy Hutchinson Little April
Ian Kelsey Daniel Johnson
Carol Starks Janet Johnson
Alexandra Hewett Young April
Chris Ryman Frankie
Nicola Duffett Big Mo
Leah Ferguson Gina
Sylvia Hodgson Pearl
Lizzy Clark Poppy


  1. ^ Holmwood, Leigh (2008-11-26). "Sneak preview of new BBC1 drama Dustbin Baby". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 December 2008.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Riley, Joe (2008-12-19). "Helen’s tale of woe". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 21 December 2008.  
  3. ^ a b Rushton, Katherine (2008-10-01). "BBC adapts Jacqueline Wilson for Christmas". Broadcast. Retrieved 22 December 2008.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h McNulty, Bernadette (2008-12-19). "Dustbin Baby". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 December 2008.  
  5. ^ a b c Hardwick, Viv (2009-01-15). "Loot of laughs". The Northern Echo. Retrieved 15 January 2009.  
  6. ^ a b "Juliet Stevenson in Dustbin Baby on BBC 1". Hatfield House. Retrieved 11 January 2009.  
  7. ^ a b "Fame for actress with Asperger syndrome". BBC. 2008-09-16. Retrieved 30 July 2009.  
  8. ^ Hill, Amelia (2009-11-15). "Mentally disabled actors are victims of modern 'blacking-up', says campaigner". The Observer.  
  9. ^ a b Sutcliffe, Tom (2008-12-22). "The Weekend's Television". The Independent. Retrieved 22 December 2008.  
  10. ^ Chater, David (2008-12-20). "TV Choice". London: The Times. Retrieved 22 December 2008.  
  11. ^ Ferguson, Euan (2008-12-28). "Hail these Plasticine scene stealers". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2008.  
  12. ^ Curtis, Chris (2008-12-22). "BBC1/ITV1 boosted by Xmas dramas". Broadcast. Retrieved 22 December 2008.  
  13. ^ Daswani, Mansha (2009-10-05). "Kissinger Lined Up for International Emmys, Nominees Announced".  
  14. ^ Robinson, James (2009-11-24). "Sir David Frost wins International Emmy in ceremony dominated by Brits". The Guardian.  
  15. ^ "Hammond gets Children's Bafta nod". The Press Association. 2009-10-26.  
  16. ^ "Hammond up for children's Bafta". BBC. 2009-10-27.  
  17. ^ a b c "Richard Hammond wins Bafta for best presenter". BBC. 2009-11-30.  
  18. ^ Matthew Hemley (2009-10-27). "The Sarah Jane Adventures nominated for Bafta". The Stage.  
  19. ^ Daswani, Mansha (2009-10-27). "BAFTA Kids' Nominations Announced".  
  20. ^ a b "Dustbin Baby". Powerplay Direct. Retrieved 2009-01-29.  
  21. ^ a b "Dustbin Baby". Retrieved 22 December 2008.  

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