Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The series Accused takes a different approach to story-telling.  Each episode begins with an accused person sitting in a jail cell, being handcuffed to an officer, and escorted into a court room.  We then get the story of what brought the person to this point in his or her life.  It's generally not until the final few minutes of the episode, when the jury is asked if they find the accused guilty or not guilty, that we even find out what their crime is.   Still, it's very interesting to see how a series of bad decisions or events brought the defendants to that point.  The 10 episodes from Series 1 & 2 take a look at people charged with a variety of crimes and follows through to the jury's verdict.  Each episode features a talented cast of well-known actors.

Episode one, Willy's Story, stars Christopher Eccelston as a plumber with financial issues.  He's hardworking and honest, but when one of his big clients goes bankrupt and pays with a check that bounces, Willy starts down a road of financial disaster.  As frequently happens, this is just the first in a long series of problems:  his van breaks down, his daughter is planning a wedding he needs to pay for, and his plans to run off with his girlfriend is put in jeopardy.  He can't believe his luck when he finds an envelope full of cash in the back of a cab.  Is this the answer to all his problems, or another, even worse complication?  The local priest tries to convince Willy that all his problems will be solved by giving up "the other woman" but Willy seems to think he can solve all his problems and keep the girlfriend, too.

I found Frankie's Story, episode two, to be one of the most haunting.  Frankie and his friend Peter
decide to join the army after getting in trouble with the law.  They are sent to Afghanistan, where they encounter a brutal and sadistic officer, played with gusto by the usually mild-mannered Mackenzie Crook.  Peter comes from a military family, and so when he freezes in the middle of battle, he becomes the target of hostility and derision by the officer.  Frankie has to walk a fine line between loyalty to his friend, and avoiding becoming a victim of the officer as well.

Juliet Stevenson and Peter Capaldi star as bereaved parents in the third episode, Helen's Story.  When their son is killed on his first day of a temporary warehouse job, Helen attempts to find out what really happened.  The owner of the company, while sympathetic, is reluctant to answer any questions.  Her son's friend, who was with him when he died, has been offered a permanent position with the company and also refuses to answer her questions.  As she becomes more obsessed with finding out what happened, she finds herself blocked at every turn.  The company won't answer questions, and if she wants to pursue criminal charges, she and her husband must foot the bill themselves (which seems rather odd . . .).

Episode four is another case of events spiraling out of control for the title character, Liam (played by a wonderful Andy Serkis).  Liam is a taxi driver with a gambling problem.  He also has a disabled wife whose MS is only getting worse.  He and their teenage daughter do their best to look after her.  When Liam's daughter passes an entrance exam for an exclusive school, he's frantic that there's no money to buy a gift for her.  He takes a young woman to the airport for a business trip, and, realizing her flat will be empty while she's away, breaks in.  He finds a necklace that he plans to give to his daughter, but at the same time finds himself drawn to the young woman who lives there, Emma.  He arranges it so that he is always available when Emma needs a ride, and becomes more and more obsessed with her.

Kenny's Story, the fifth episode, plays on the fears of most parents.  When Kenny's young daughter is attacked in a local park, he and two friends set out to find the perpetrator.  Coming upon someone who seems to match the description of the molester, they attack the man.  When he dies of his
injuries, the trio become increasingly desperate in their attempts to cover their tracks.

The gorgeous Naomie Harris is Alison in the final episode from season 1.  Alison is a teacher for disabled children.  She and her husband are having problems, and so when a charming co-worker begins flirting with her, she doesn't exactly rebuff his advances.  While she's supposedly attending a conference in Glasgow, her husband sees on the news that the train she was traveling on was involved in a horrific crash.  When Alison walks in unharmed soon afterwards, her lie becomes exposed and she and her husband end their marriage.  A custody battle over their two children becomes nasty, and her ex-husband and his policeman father will go to any lengths to discredit Alison.

Series 2 begins with another downer, this time involving Mo and her friend Sue, single mothers raising their children on a crime-infested housing estate.  They work together in a salon, but enrage the local gangs when they refuse to close as a "mark of respect" during the funeral of one of their members.  Mo (played by Anne Marie Duff) and Sue (poor Olivia Coleman, whose characters can never seem to catch a break!) are targeted for retaliation.  When Sue's son Sean is gunned down, the two women become active in the local organization Women Against Guns.  Will this bring even more gang retaliation?

Stephen's Story concerns a young man who likely is suffering from schizophrenia.  Stephen's mother is dying of cancer, and a young nurse, Charlotte, comes to the house to offer palliative care.  Not long after his mother's death, Stephen is dismayed when Charlotte begins a relationship with his father and moves in.  Not only is she being increasingly bossy, but she also remodels his  mother's room and even manages to kill the family dog (although accidentally).  Stephen is hearing voices and people on TV are giving him advice about what he needs to do.  He becomes convinced that Charlotte is poisoning his family, and determines to save them.

A lonely, cross-dressing English professor is the main character in Tracie's story.  Simon is a boring professor by day, but at night he dresses to the nines and goes out on the town as Tracie.  Enjoying the attention she gets, Tracie (played by a wonderfully camp Sean Bean) flaunts herself around town.  When a rowdy bachelor party member begins hassling her, one of the other members of the group feels bad and offers Tracie a shared taxi.  Tracie invites him in, and a relationship begins.  The man, Tony, tells Tracie his wife died and that he wants a relationship with Tracie.  When Simon, who goes unnoticed by Tony, happens to see Tony with a woman, he realizes Tony has been lying.  Tracie presents an ultimatum, so which life will Tony choose?

The final episode, Tina's story, ties in two of the earlier stories from Season 2.  Tina is a guard at a young offender's prison.  The guards are short-staffed and overworked.  When Stephen Cartwright, from episode 2) arrives at the prison, Tina (played by Pemberley's Anna Maxwell-Martin) immediately feels something isn't right about him.  She's called away to escort another inmate to the sick bay, and tells her co-worker that Stephen needs to be watched and classified as mentally ill.  When she arrives back, she immediately checks on Stephen, and discovers he's committed suicide.  While she and her co-worker initially tell their superior and the boy's family that they didn't notice anything odd about his behavior, Tina eventually decides that she must tell the truth about what happened.  This will expose not only her, but also her co-worker, to disciplinary action -- which the co-worker wants to avoid at any cost.

I can't say Accused is exactly an uplifting series. You watch each episode with a rising sense of dread as you try to figure out just what the main character has done to land himself or herself on trial.  As events spiral out of control, it's increasingly depressing to watch a series of bad decisions turn the situation from bad to worse.   Still, it's fascinating to see how the characters get themselves into trouble and what happens once they are on trial.  The set also contains a "behind the scenes" feature where the producer, director and writer discuss the making of the series.  I especially liked the interview with the writer, Jimmy McGovern, who said he was inspired to write the series by cases he knew where people were serving life in prison for simply being "at the wrong place at the wrong time."  He particularly mentions the case of someone doing life for "using his cell phone at the wrong time."  Sadly, he doesn't elaborate, although I'm sure that's a case we'd all like to know more about!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Accused from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Accused:   Four Gherkins, for being a step-by-step look at how ordinary people can find themselves on the wrong side of the law


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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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