Last Night’s TV – Dawn Porter: Mail Order Bride

by Lynn Connolly

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I should preface this article by saying that I am a big fan of Dawn Porter; she’s witty, she’s intelligent, and she doesn’t dither about. She gets her journalistic job done with panache, and I would watch anything in which she features, because you’re guaranteed a good show.

And last night’s Dawn Porter: Mail Order Bride was riveting watching. I don’t know how I managed to miss this series of shows about women and love when it was first shown last year, but I’m so glad Channel 4 are showing it again.

Last night’s documentary was, as it says on the tin, all about the murky and often downright weird and creepy world of mail order brides, and specifically, women in the Ukraine wanting to meet – and possibly marry – men from the US.

Dawn followed the journeys of some of clients of a dating agency called, ‘A Foreign Affair’, which basically aims to hook up prospective brides with optimistic and prospective Western husbands.

The head of the company, Elena, met her husband as a mail order bride and they’ve been together for 10 years and run their multi-national business together. And it’s a lucrative one. The men Dawn met, who’d arrived in the Ukraine to attend a ‘social’ with the women on A Foreign Affair’s books, paid around $5,000 each to do so.

And apparently, some 4,000 men find brides in this way each year, but of the men that Dawn met, the overall impression with most of them is that they were, frankly, weirdos. That said, there was one man, Jerry, who was absolutely lovely; he wasn’t there to find a young girl and wasn’t just looking for sex. He seemed warm, funny, realistic and downright, well, nice, but the same couldn’t be said of Kevin and Marc…

Kevin, it soon transpired, had a ‘thing’ for young girls. One of the women he most liked at the social had braces, and he made sure the interpreter told her that he really, really liked that about her. Ew…

And it got worse; he told Dawn about himself and then, in telling the ‘girls’ at the social about himself, he told two very different stories. Dawn told of how he and his hotel room stunk of “body odour and cologne” and she was clearly repulsed by him and his freakish, high pitched girly laugh and all round oddness. He was the type of bloke you wouldn’t touch with someone else’s…

In fact, Elena, Dawn told us, had asked her off camera not to spend so much time with Kevin, and when Dawn pressed her on-camera as to why she would make that request, she got very agitated and called the interview to a halt. Clearly, the reason she didn’t want much attention on Kevin was because he was a fruitcake – and one with possibly paedophilic tendencies to boot – and was therefore not a shining example of the clientele she’d like to attract. It didn’t stop her taking his $5,000 though.

Then there was Marc, who, on the face of it, seemed nice enough. He didn’t have two heads, he seemed to have reasonable expectations of what a relationship means to both parties, but on the night of the social, he took a liking to a woman called Ilena. By the way, excuse me if some of these names aren’t spelled correctly, but I was too busy watching the action to pay much attention to that kind of detail.

Anyway, after a very brief conversation, Marc asked Ilena out to dinner. She agreed but while Marc was outside talking to Dawn about Ilena, Ilena was back inside the venue flirting with another guy, Frank – a man who’s a devout Christian and was handing out bags of Jelly Beans with a religious pamphlet taped to the back – and she was clearly very impressed with him. Ilena most particularly liked the fact that Kevin was a policeman.

On returning inside, Marc was extremely miffed to find Ilena with Frank and went off into a sulky strop – after trying, and failing, to pull Dawn – which worried Dawn. And rightly so; after all, he’d known this woman all of ten minutes and he was acting as if he was upset over an unfaithful wife.

Marc had a conviction for an assault too – as apparently many of the men featured in the show did – but he told her that in fact he’d been the victim, but as his accuser was a lawyer, and the judge on the day not on Marc’s side, he got this conviction.

Dawn didn’t know whether to believe his story or not, and of course, there was no way of knowing about the veracity of what he had to say. But, as the evening wore on, he and Ilena did in fact end up at dinner together, and Marc broke down in tears during a discussion with Ilena about her talking to Frank. At that point, one had to wonder just how mentally unstable this man was.

And that very point was one that Dawn made often during the show. By the very fact that these men and women had, at best, only met via the internet – and in many cases, not before that evening – the danger was clear and present, for both sides.

We heard from a former employee of various similar agencies how some men were effectively set up by the agencies and robbed or conned into paying for sex with women who were prostitutes posing as prospective brides.

Early on in the show, we heard how some women from the Ukraine had married American men and ended up dead or horribly abused.

It’s a scary way of meeting people and one would have to assume a certain level of desperation on the part of both the men who look for women this way, and of course, the women who’re looking for men. However, far from finding a veritable harem of women so anxious to have a husband, they’d do anything – and anyone – the women at the social seemed, for the most part, intelligent, independent women who would not jump at the chance to go to America and be just anyone’s wife.

However, for those who were of a mind to, there are classes in the art of “making a man happy”. Dawn attended one that was run by a woman whose pronunciation of the word ‘penis’ was ‘pen-iz’. And it made for hilarious viewing as she demonstrated ‘techniques’ on a banana and taught her pupils how to cope with a small pen-iz.

This show had it all for me; it had Dawn, it had an interesting subject matter, it had humour but it also had a dark side, and it all made for fascinating watching.

If you missed it, you can catch up with it here on 4oD, and it’s well worth an hour of your time!

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.