Is The Unforgivable Based on a True Story?

Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, ‘The Unforgivable’ is a gritty, emotional drama that follows Ruth Slater as she tries to piece her life back together after being imprisoned for 20 years. Haunted by the crime that got her incarcerated and desperately trying to find her younger sister, the protagonist’s journey is an emotionally harrowing one. The narrative, penned by Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles, also touches upon multiple present-day issues, making the story seem all the more authentic. So just how much of ‘The Unforgivable’ is based on a true story? We decided to find out.

Is The Unforgivable a True Story?

No, ‘The Unforgivable’ is not based on a true story. The film is based on the three-episode British miniseries ‘Unforgiven,’ written by Sally Wainwright. Since the characters and plot of the miniseries almost exactly match that of the film, the latter’s story is almost entirely based on the former. Only a few minor changes to the plot have been affected in the Sandra Bullock starring film. Most notably, it is the fact that Ruth’s character in the miniseries is convicted for 15 years and kills two cops instead of the 20 years and singular killing of Bullock’s Ruth.

In both series and film, the protagonist looks desperately for her long-lost younger sister, Katie. As heart-wrenching as the narrative is, the story is fictional, as are the characters involved in it. However, as is the case with many tense and hard-hitting dramas, there is a reflection of the real world in the narrative. One of the story’s central aspects is the destructive effect of being in the prison system on someone’s prospects for a normal life. It is a testament to how universal this problem is in the real world, as the topic could be depicted on a British miniseries and so closely translated to an American-German co-production.

Perhaps where ‘The Unforgivable’ steps into original territory with its narrative is its pointed commentary on racism. Despite her desperate situation, Ruth is occasionally described as someone who is still privileged. This is most clear through Viola Davis’ character Liz Ingram, who is certain her Black sons would never have seen the light of day had they killed a police officer. The fact that Ruth is able to ask for a lawyer, and fight for her right to see her sister, makes Liz describe the ex-convict as privileged because of her race.

In fact, Davis even described how, around the time that she was working on ‘The Unforgivable,’ the mass protests over the killing of George Floyd began sweeping the country. The conversation and awareness that these protests sparked is something that Davis wanted to give voice to through her character. This approach was enthusiastically adopted and folded into the show, which is why the idea of race and privilege are woven into the narrative even more prominently.

Thus, ‘The Unforgivable’ is inspired by a fictional television miniseries and follows a fictional story. However, the film still digs deep into the situations it depicts, ensuring that they are presented with enough nuance to make them seem authentic to real life. The themes of racial bias and other topical issues are also central to the movie, making it seem much closer to a real-life story than it actually is.

Read More: Where Was The Unforgivable Filmed?