New Refuge film shines light on domestic violence

3rd June 2020
  • Refuge launches hard-hitting short film about a woman who escapes her violent partner during lockdown – featuring Maxine Peake and Lex Shrapnel
  • Initiative to support domestic abuse charity as it records 66 per cent increase in demand to National Helpline

National domestic abuse charity, Refuge, has partnered with McCann to launch a new short film starring awarding-winning actor Maxine Peake, drawing attention to the shocking rise in violence against women during lockdown.

Peake stars alongside TV, film and stage actor, Lex Shrapnel, in Surfaces, which is available to view on the Refuge website, – – and through its YouTube channel from today. To drive traffic to the hard-hitting film, a 30-second teaser trailer will run on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, alongside a rich media digital display campaign and Spotify audio campaign.

The 11-minute story written by McCann Bristol’s Group Executive Creative Director, Jon Elsom, and directed by Steve Reeves, features characters Alix and Richard. The married couple in their 40s started a whirlwind romance five years ago, which quickly descended into physical and mental abuse towards Alix. Filmed entirely over a real conference call, lockdown has just started – but Alix isn’t at home and Richard is ‘worried’ about her whereabouts.

After two days of unsuccessfully trying to reach her, Richard finally gets through on a video call. At first, his wife seems cool and distant, saying she’s simply left him. But all is not as it seems. The conversation gradually reveals the horror of Richard’s controlling coercion and abuse throughout their relationship. As the story unfolds, we understand that Alix has lived her marriage to Richard in lockdown – isolated and in fear. Ironically, it is the COVID lockdown and her one hour of exercise that provides her with the opportunity she needs to escape to a refuge. Alix has finally found safety and expert support, and is taking the first steps to rebuilding her life free from violence and abuse.

Surfaces sends a clear message of hope to survivors. Whether they have already fled their perpetrator, or are still living in constant fear, it tells them that there is a life after abuse, and that support is available – and that they are not alone. Refuges are still open and the National Domestic Abuse Helpline is still running twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The film ends with details of how to get in touch with Refuge and access its Helpline.

Since the PM’s request for people to stay at home in March, calls and contacts to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline have recently rocketed by 66 per cent, with visits to its website rising ten-fold.

On the launch of Surfaces, Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge said, “This short film is a stark reminder of what lockdown has been like, and continues to be like, for victims of domestic abuse. As restrictions slowly lift and an end to lockdown is in sight, it’s important to remember women across the country will continue to experience abuse.

“Women watching Surfaces will not only identify with Maxine’s brilliant depiction of an abused woman, but they will also know that they not alone.  Refuge is here around the clock, providing specialist, confidential, non-judgmental support. If, like Alix, you are frightened of your partner, reach out and contact us.”

Jon Elsom, Group Executive Creative Director, McCann Bristol, said, “The insidious menace of domestic abuse is especially heart-breaking right now, with so many women and children trapped during lockdown. I hope this film helps spread awareness that even if things seem normal, you can’t always trust the surface of things. Each of us might know someone being abused, and not realise it. But there is a way out. There is help.”

The film is a follow-up to the spectacularly successful Turn To Us campaign created by McCann Bristol for Refuge in 2019. It featured reversible poems that told two opposing stories depending on which way they were read. Top to bottom, they depicted family bliss. But turned on their head, they reflected the reality of families under siege from abusive men. The campaign collected a Cannes Lion, D&AD Pencil, One Show Pencil and nine Creative Circle awards.

Domestic violence: the facts

  • One in four British women experience domestic violence at some point during their lifetime
  • Two women are killed by their partner or an ex in England and Wales every week
  • On average another three women a week commit suicide in the UK as a way of escaping a violent partner
  • Refuge is currently supporting more than 6,500 survivors on any given day through its frontline services (excluding the Helpline) – helping them escape violence and rebuild their lives


Actors – Maxine Peake, Lex Shrapnel

Writer – Jon Elsom

Director – Steve Reeves

Editor – Bruce Townend

Art director – Pawlo Wintoniuk

Edit assistant – Dave Robinson

Production company – Another Film Company

Edit house – The Quarry


About McCann Bristol

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