Following the cutbacks to ITV’s studios in Manchester , where his series The Street was filmed, Jimmy McGovern stated he wasn’t going to make any more episodes of his character drama. This in my eyes was a shame, though understandable, as The Street always provided an hours’ worth of well-acted thought-provoking drama which focused on flawed characters trying to do their best to get by in life. McGovern’s next project was Accused which, like The Street, also dealt with one specific character per episode however this time our protagonist was seen in court before journeying back to the story which landed them there in the first place. Though the first series of Accused was well-acted throughout I found that McGovern often had to stretch credibility to fit the crime into the story in order for his lead character to end up in the dock. There were some strong episodes, including one which saw Juliet Stevenson on BAFTA-nominated form as grieving mother, but overall I was expecting more from a writer of McGovern’s calibre.
For the second series of Accused some changes have been made firstly the number of episodes have been cut from six to four which means that each instalment gets to have two or three quality lead performers who will allow you to keep guessing what crime was committed and who actually did it. The prime example of that is in this first episode which see mild-mannered English teacher Simon Gaskell (Sean Bean) in the dock for an unknown crime as we see most of the story unfold through the eyes of Simon’s alter-ego the glamorous Tracie Tremarco. We first meet Tracie on a night out as she stumbles into a rather rough bar and is insulted by an uncomfortable patron before being rescued by his brother with the two sharing a cab. Tracie and satellite installation engineer Tony Baines (Stephen Graham) strike up a conversation which leads to the latter following the former into her flat for what becomes quite a torrid love affair. It is clear that Tracie is in love with Tony however he can’t seem to come to her flat without drinking first and after she makes an effort to dress up for him he stands her up. When Simon runs into Tony he isn’t recognised so decides to follow him and is shocked with what he discovers with this discovery leading up to the reason why this man with the double-life is in court in the first place.
What McGovern has always been great at is creating fully-rounded and compelling characters which comes across here especially in the Simon/Tracey persona. Simon is full of confidence as Tracey displaying a bold as brass attitude and several witty comebacks as well as plenty of glamorous outfits accompanied by very high high heels. Tracey describes Simon as, ‘the most boring man in the world’, and indeed Simon always looks fairly melancholy as he goes about his business teaching English to a bunch of scruffy disinterested teens who attend a school without a uniform. Some of the best parts of the episode come when Simon is reciting poems to his class with these recitations being interspersed with scenes of him transforming into his female alter-ego. Bean is fantastic in the role and seems completely at ease playing a woman even if this means a dreaded full-body shave but it seems to me that he’s done this before as he was so adept at applying the make-up. I never once felt I was watching the man who played Sharpe or Ned Stark but instead an emotionally vulnerable person who didn’t really know which way to turn.
Similarly Stephen Graham, who also appeared in The Street, is a fantastic screen presence with his smaller frame perfectly counter-balancing Bean’s broad-shouldered transvestite. Due to his diminutive stature and beaming grin Graham often comes across as the cheeky chappy and in this instance his Tony completely charms Tracie into thinking that they could begin a great love affair. However, as anybody who has seen This is England or Boardwalk Empire can attest to, Graham can also portray someone with a violent steak and this combination is utilised throughout this episode of Accused.
As I said before my main criticism of Series One of Accused was that the main crime often felt clumsily inserted within the main narrative as it was something McGovern needed to do rather than actually wanting to do it. There’s no such danger here though as the crime comes as somewhat of a shock as it is committed off-screen and it is the aftermath of the crime that creates the final drama for both Tony and Tracie. The brief courtroom scenes are the only ones that feel fairly stilted but then they are necessary to tell the full story and do at least create one memorable scene where Simon dons the Tracey get-up for one shocking revelation. The final scenes are also well-handled I felt fully satisfied after watching this hour of drama as McGovern had created a fully-rounded story with believable characters that didn’t once drag.
Overall I felt that Accused got off to a tremendous start with my only fear being that it may’ve peaked a little too soon however with future episodes featuring Anna Maxwell-Martin, Sheridan Smith and Robert Sheehan among others the rest of this series looks promising. A story featuring two superb performances and a well-paced narrative is all you can really ask from a TV drama and I can comfortably say that this second series of Accused is definitely a return to form for the legend that is Jimmy McGovern.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter