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'Three Families' — release date, cast, plot and everything you need to know about the BBC1 drama

Theresa (played by Sinéad Keenan) in Three Families.
Theresa (played by Sinéad Keenan) in Three Families. (Image credit: BBC/Studio Lambert/Peter Marley)

Three Families is a new BBC drama that highlights the effects of the 1967 Abortion Act not being extended to Northern Ireland when it was launched in the rest of the UK.

Set between 2013 and 2019, the show tells the story of three women and their families in Northern Ireland, before the very recent change to abortion legislation in the region.

Previously announced using the show's working title, When It Happens To You, Three Families is sure to be among the best BBC dramas. Here’s everything you need to know about Three Families...

Three Families release date 

Three Families started on BBC1 on Monday 10 May at 9pm. The two-part drama concludes on Tuesday 11 May at 9pm. 

Both episodes are now available to watch on demand via BBC iPlayer

Click here to find out how to watch Three Families in the US. 

Three Families cast 

The BBC officially announced the cast for Three Families on April 7. Sinéad Keenan (Little Boy Blue) Lola Petticrew (Bloodlands), Amy James-Kelly (Gentleman Jack) and Genevieve O’Reilly (The Dry) will appear.

Sinéad says: " I hope that the audience, no matter what their stance, will see that in every situation there is nuance, there is grey area, there is difficulty and there is a lot of heartache. No decisions are taken easily in these situations and I hope this drama gives people that pause for thought."

Genevieve also says: "I was already interested even before I read the script. But I was genuinely eager to be a part of this story after I had read it. I feel passionately that this is a conversation we need to keep sharing."

Colin Morgan (Merlin, Humans), Owen McDonnell (Killing Eve), Prasanna Puwanarajah (Defending the Guilty) and Kerri Quinn (Coronation Street) will also feature in the two-parter.

Three Families Theresa and Orla

Three Families sees Theresa fighting to help her daughter, Orla.  (Image credit: BBC)

What’s the plot? 

In the cast announcement, the BBC summarized Three Families as follows: 

Three Families explores the emotive issues around abortion in Northern Ireland, and the experience of families whose lives have been profoundly affected. Names and details have been changed to ensure the anonymity of the real-life contributors.” 

The show explores this controversial topic through overlapping true stories. In Three Families, a mother faces prison for trying to help her pregnant teenage daughter. Then there are two young newlyweds who learn that their much-wanted first child will die of a fatal foetal abnormality. If they lived in England, Wales or Scotland, both families could seek a legal termination. But this is Northern Ireland, where abortion laws have been among the most restrictive in Europe.

The show has been written by Gwyneth Hughes (Doing Money, Vanity Fair) and has been produced by the team behind Three Girls, the multi-award-winning account of the Rochdale grooming scandal. They were also the team behind The Nest.

Piers Wenger, Director of BBC Drama, says the show “will help audiences get an insight into how abortion law has affected many different women and their families. Their stories are powerful, personal and memorable.”

What happened in episode one?

The first episode of Three Families saw Theresa Ryan discover her teenage daughter, Orla, had fallen pregnant to her abusive ex boyfriend. Orla was desperate to have a termination, however with her options limited, Theresa instead bought her daughter some illegal abortion pills online, something which landed her in huge trouble with the law. Before long Orla had become the talk of the town and Theresa found herself in court for her actions. 

Running alongside Theresa and Orla's story, we saw Newlyweds Hannah and Johnathan who were overjoyed to find they were expecting their first child together. Their dreams were shattered however when they were told at a scan that their unborn baby wouldn't survive outside the womb, but because of abortion laws Hannah was forbidden to terminate the pregnancy. Hannah then had to do carry her child to full term and go through with the birth. Hannah's experience lead to her wanting to help change the abortion laws, putting her own experience to some good. 

Three Families Hannah Kennedy

Hannah and Johnathan faced heartbreak in episode one. (Image credit: BBC)

Is there a trailer? 

Yes, there's a minute long trailer which teases the struggles these women face being pregnant in Northern Ireland, where there's strict rules around abortion. 

Each of these women have a different story to tell, and the series explores the social taboos and the emotional impact of these abortion laws. 

The trailer shows us plenty of emotions from extreme happiness to extreme fear, as we follow the lives of the families impacted by this.