Butterfly (TV series)

Butterfly is a three-part British television drama series that premiered on 14 October 2018. Made for ITV by Red Production Company, the series focuses on the family of an 11-year-old child Maxine (Callum Booth-Ford) who begins to realise that she is a trans girl. Anna Friel and Emmett J. Scanlan play her parents, Vicky and Stephen, who reluctantly begin to accept Maxine's need to transition from male to female.

Butterfly title card.png
Created byTony Marchant
Written byTony Marchant
Directed byAnthony Byrne
  • Michael Stein
  • Kyle Dixon
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes3
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)Louise Sutton
CinematographySi Bell
Editor(s)Josh Cunliffe
Running time44 minutes
Production company(s)Red Production Company
Original networkITV
Picture format2:1 1080i
Audio formatStereo
Original release14 October (2018-10-14) –
28 October 2018 (2018-10-28)

The series was created by Tony Marchant, who met transgender people and their families during the writing process through trans charity Mermaids. It garnered positive reception, with critics praising the characterisation of Maxine's parents and the programme's subject matter. The show was received positively by social media users and several trans commentators. A scene in which Maxine attempts suicide was criticised by a gender clinic of the National Health Service.


The show was created and written by Tony Marchant, who had previously written Different for Girls, a 1996 film about an adult trans woman. In an interview with HuffPost, Marchant explained that "[t]he idea of exploring the fluidity of gender has always appealed to [him]".[1] The show's lead consultant was Susie Green, UK director of trans charity Mermaids.[2] The storyline has similarities to the experiences of Susie Green with her transgender daughter Jackie, who became the youngest British girl to receive sex reassignment surgery at age 16.[3][4]

Whilst writing the show, Marchant was able to visit families who Mermaids support and listen to their experiences. Marchant aimed to dispel two myths about transgender children: that they identify as such to be "trendy", and that puberty blockers are easy for trans people to access.[1] Digital Spy reported that filming began in January 2018[5] and OK! reported that filming concluded in March 2018.[6] Callum Booth-Ford, a cisgender boy, was cast as Maxine; around five actors were auditioned for the part. Marchant considered casting a trans child, but was told by Mermaids that it would be "really difficult and painful" for a trans actor.[1] Green adds that anonymity was a factor.[7]

Emmett J. Scanlan was cast as Stephen, Maxine's father, whilst Anna Friel played Maxine's mother Vicky. Marchant noted a common theme among families at Mermaids was the presence of transgender children's mothers and absence of their fathers. Vicky's attitudes were written to be representative of her generation and Stephen's doubts were written as reasonable, so that people could relate to them.[1] In preparation for filming, both Scanlan and Friel visited families who are supported by Mermaids.[7] During filming, Friel listened to synth-pop and wore a specific perfume to get into the mindset of her character.[8]

The soundtrack, which consists of synth music, was composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon, who have previously worked together on Netflix's science fiction-horror series Stranger Things.[8]


  • Callum Booth-Ford as Maxine Duffy, birth name Max.[9] Maxine is a trans girl who has been wanting to wear girl's clothing since age five. Dysphoria with her body leads her to self-harm at age 11, and she wants nothing more than to stop her body developing into a male one.
  • Anna Friel as Vicky Duffy, Maxine's mother and guardian.[9] Vicky has allowed Maxine to wear female clothing in the household but not in public; after consultation with professionals, she fully embraces Maxine's gender identity and works towards getting her treatment.
  • Emmett J. Scanlan as Stephen Duffy, Maxine's father.[9] Stephen left the household after slapping Maxine for acting feminine in a moment of anger, and he is reluctant to accept Maxine's identity. He returns home and is eventually able to support her.
  • Millie Gibson as Lily Duffy, Maxine's sister.[9] Lily watches out for her sister at school and encourages her to begin identifying as female. As her parents begin to pay more attention to Maxine, Lily begins to feel unloved. She is romantically interested with a school friend.
  • Alison Steadman as Barbara Pannell, Vicky's mother.[9] She is initially critical of Vicky for allowing Maxine to identify as female, but later comes around to the idea.
  • Seán McGinley as Peter Duffy, Stephen's father.[9] At first, he is concerned with Maxine's female gender identity.


No.TitleOriginal release date
1"Episode 1"October 14, 2018 (2018-10-14)[6]
Stephen brings his girlfriend Gemma when he spends the day with his children Lily and Max, the latter of whom wants to be treated as a girl despite having been assigned male at birth. On Max's first day at high school, resigned to wearing the male uniform, Max wets herself after refusing to use the male toilets. Lily helps her mother Vicky dress for a date, but Max urges her to date Stephen instead. As Vicky is about to leave, Lily discovers Max has slashed her wrists. In the hospital, Max urges Stephen to return home. Talking to a mental health professional, Vicky and Stephen explain that Max has wished to wear girl's clothing from the age of five; the doctor recommends them to a gender identity service Ferrybank. Vicky reluctantly allows Stephen to return home when he says he wants to "fix" their "son". Stephen breaks up with Gemma. A flashback shows Stephen slapping Max. Max discovers a video about trans people online. After dancing with Lily and her friends, Max is confronted by bullies, but Lily intervenes. At home, Lily announces that Max has bought a girl's uniform and wants to be known as Maxine.
2"Episode 2"October 21, 2018 (2018-10-21)[6]
Vicky and Stephen go to a meeting at Mermaids—a transgender charity. Maxine tells Stephen about being bullied and he threatens the bullies with violence, to Vicky's outrage. After Maxine spends half an hour in the bathroom, Stephen forces the door open and the family see her with a piece of broken glass, yelling about her penis. Maxine and her parents meet with a school staff member who, after issuing heavy warnings to Maxine about the permanence of identifying as female, sends a letter to the year group about her name change. At school, Maxine meets a girl Molly who has also been self-harming. Vicky's mother Barbara yells at her for letting Maxine present as a girl. Maxine sees a Ferrybank worker, as her parents do the same. Stephen discusses the situation with Gemma. Maxine is denied puberty blockers, leading Vicky to shout at the Ferrybank staff. She borrows money from her mother Barbara so that she can take Maxine to America to get puberty blockers. Lily goes on a date with a school friend.
3"Episode 3"October 28, 2018 (2018-10-28)[6]
Stephen realises where Vicky and Maxine have gone, and Barbara is outraged, as Vicky told her the money was for her business. Vicky pays for Maxine to go through medical tests to prepare for puberty blockers. She will need to return to Boston for further treatment. Meanwhile, Lily tells Stephen that she feels neglected and goes to stay with Barbara. Stephen pursues a criminal case; as they return home, Vicky is arrested and police officers interview Maxine. The family argue and Stephen leaves to stay with his father Peter. Following Gemma's advice, Stephen drops the legal case, but still argues with Vicky. An interim care order is filed and an officer assesses Maxine's well-being. When Vicky apologises to Barbara, she learns that Barbara spoke favourably of her to the officer. Maxine visits a hospitalised Molly. Vicky gets angry at the officer and admits that Stephen has slapped Maxine. Vicky apologises to Lily for neglecting her. Gemma meets Vicky. Vicky and Stephen reluctantly explain to Maxine that she cannot return to Boston. After discussion with the care officer, the family go to an appointment and manage to get the go-ahead for Maxine to start puberty blockers.


The show first aired on ITV in the UK, on Sunday evenings in a prime time slot.[2][10] In Canada, it will air in 2019 on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.[11]


Jeff Robson of i gives the show four out of five stars, lauding the characters as a "warm, flawed and believable family" and praising the actors' "very impressive performances". However, Robson criticised the extensive flashbacks.[10] Sean O'Grady of The Independent wrote a four star review, describing the show as "incredibly affecting", and praising Booth-Ford's acting. O'Grady comments that the programme is "a landmark ITV series" and highlights for praise a scene in which Lily says to Maxine: "I think of you as my sister".[12] Lucy Mangan of The Guardian gives the programme a four star review, praising it as "wonderfully delicate" and describing the characters as "fully realised" by "uniformly brilliant performances".[13]

In The Telegraph, Gabriel Tate rated the show three stars, calling it "engaging" and praising its "carefully calibrated pushback against lazy prejudice", whilst criticising its use of clichés, comparing areas of the show to a public information film and critiquing Steadman's performance as "phoned in".[14] Adam Starkey of Metro also gives the show three stars, believing it to be "an admirable, if flawed first attempt for mainstream TV". Starkey praises the acting of the parent characters but opines that it is hard to connect with the character of Maxine.[15] In a three star review in The Times, James Jackson wrote that the first episode kept his attention. Jackson praised Friel's acting and the relatability of the parents, but felt trepidation at the inclusion of the Mermaids in the story.[16]

A negative review in The Telegraph by Allison Pearson criticised that the programme "unashamedly supports the transgender cause". Pearson described cases of trans people attempting suicide as "non-existent" and described Butterfly as "highly irresponsible" for displaying Maxine's suicide attempt, saying "copycat attempts are a serious problem".[17] Also in The Telegraph, Tim Stanley critiqued the programme's depiction of manhood, commenting that "our culture doesn't value manly men quite the way it did".[18]

In Radio Times, Ash Palmisciano praised Butterfly as "a landmark story", describing it as "truthful, dark, heart-breaking [and] beautiful". The article contains praise from other trans commentors and activists who found the show to present accurate and positive portrayals of trans people, whilst also dealing with difficult themes.[19] Woman & Home, Digital Spy, OK! and PinkNews reported that the show was well-received by viewers on social media, including by trans newsreader India Willoughby and Labour politician Dawn Butler.[2][20][21][22] Some parents of transgender youth questioned whether Maxine was a gay boy who did not need to transition.[23]

The National Health Service's gender clinic, Gender Identity Development Service, criticised the show's depiction of Maxine's suicide attempt, stating that it was "not helpful" due to the rarity of 11-year-olds attempting suicide, and reporting that fewer than 1% of their patients attempted suicide. Green cited a 2016 Stonewall survey in which 45% of transgender children reported that they had attempted suicide. ITV commented that "Butterfly is one family's fictional story". The Sunday Times reported that "programme-makers visited the clinic early on but it is understood they parted company over differences".[24]

The first episode received an overnight rating of 2.8 million viewers.[25] Following the broadcast, Green reported that Mermaids had seen a spike in new members.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d Percival, Ash (14 October 2018). "'Butterfly' Writer Tony Marchant On Changing Attitudes To Transgender Children And The Importance Of Trans Representation On Screen". HuffPost. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Hunt, Amy (15 October 2018). "Fans praise Anna Friel's 'powerful' new ITV drama Butterfly". Woman & Home. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  3. ^ Broster, Alice (11 October 2018). "Who Is Jackie Green? The Real Life Story Behind ITV's 'Butterfly' Is So Inspiring". Bustle. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  4. ^ Duggins, Tom (10 October 2018). "Is Butterfly based on a true story? New ITV drama starring Anna Friel". PinkNews. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  5. ^ Anderton, Joe (8 January 2018). "Emmett J Scanlan and Anna Friel play a formerly married couple in first look at ITV's drama about a gender variant child". Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Donaldson, Laura (17 October 2018). "Butterfly ITV: When is the drama on, what's it about and who's in the cast with Anna Friel and Callum Booth-Ford? All the details". OK!. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  7. ^ a b Harrison, Ellie (28 October 2018). "Paris Lees: 'Butterfly is the best thing to happen to the trans community for years'". Radio Times. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  8. ^ a b Bray, Elisa (12 October 2018). "Anna Friel on transgender drama Butterfly: 'If it was my daughter, I don't know what I would do'". The Independent. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Meet the cast of ITV's Butterfly". Radio Times. 28 October 2018. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  10. ^ a b Robson, Jeff (14 October 2018). "Butterfly, ITV, review: A sensitive 'social issue' drama that's also a sparky slice of life". i. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  11. ^ Middleton, Richard (22 November 2018). "ITV's Butterfly lands in Canada". C21 Media. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  12. ^ O'Grady, Sean (12 October 2018). "Butterfly, episode one review: 'An incredibly affecting drama'". The Independent. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  13. ^ Mangan, Lucy (14 October 2018). "Butterfly review – an important, truthful drama about a transgender child". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  14. ^ Tate, Gabriel (14 October 2018). "Butterfly review: a well-intended pushback against lazy prejudice". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  15. ^ Starkey, Adam (14 October 2018). "Butterfly episode 1 review: Anna Friel anchors admirable transgender drama". Metro. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  16. ^ Jackson, James (15 October 2018). "TV review: Butterfly; The Cry". The Times. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  17. ^ Pearson, Allison (17 October 2018). "The tyranny of the transgender minority has got to be stopped". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  18. ^ Stanley, Tim (16 October 2018). "Who would choose to be a man in our straitjacketing, anti-masculine society?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  19. ^ Harrison, Ellie (21 October 2018). "What did trans people and parents of trans children make of Butterfly episode one?". Radio Times. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  20. ^ Mitchell, Bea (15 October 2018). "ITV's Butterfly wins viewers over with sensitive portrayal of a transgender child's experience". Digital Spy. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  21. ^ Donaldson, Laura (15 October 2018). "Butterfly ITV: Fans rush to praise Anna Friel drama as impressed viewers gush over 'powerful' and 'incredible' series". OK!. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  22. ^ Perslo, Sofia Lotto (15 October 2018). "Butterfly screenwriter Tony Marchant says 'hysteria' on trans issues 'very reminiscent of Section 28'". PinkNews. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  23. ^ Doward, Jamie (3 November 2018). "Too young to decide? Questions dividing real-life Butterfly families". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  24. ^ Gilligan, Andrew (14 October 2018). "Butterfly: Teen transgender drama 'inflates suicide risk'". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  25. ^ Thomas, Rebecca (12 October 2018). "How ITV's Butterfly hopes to be a 'game-changer' for trans people". BBC News. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  26. ^ Levesley, David (22 October 2018). "Butterfly: what it was like to consult on the ITV drama". GQ. Retrieved 11 December 2018.

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