Jimmy McGovern is an acclaimed British TV screenwriter. His newest series Accused was co-written with other newer writers for each of its six episodes. The show always starts on the morning that a criminal is about to be sentenced and in flashback we learn the motive for the crime (usually murder, with occasional previous crimes). The drama always ends back in real time when the sentence is handed down.
Episode 5 of 6 involves Kenny Armstrong, a dad with three children and it differs because firstly there was so much advanced publicity we knew that the crime was child sexual abuse, and Armstrong’s daughter was the victim, an annoying trait of the modern BBC drama trailer. The series has already been criticised for its unrealistic handling of everyday details, either for factory work laws or Army procedures. People are surprised by this because McGovern created Cracker which was remade into the American drama Fitz. Details of police procedure were slavishly created for this older classic show so to have McGovern getting lazy over the details now is a shame. It’s realistic enough to have the lead investigating cop put a theoretical scenario about what might happen during the trial exactly halfway through the episode before the arrests happen in flashback. I suspect that had I known that this was a prediction of the end of the episode I would have stopped watching, but only the great acting kept me interested as the emotions were more realistically portrayed than the storyline.
The first flight of fancy from the script is when Armstrong runs into the family of the victim at the hospital because he breaks his wrist in the course of trying to seek revenge. However, it’s even more unrealistic that Armstrong would run into the bereaved family on multiple occasions after this first coincidence that you’ve already suspended your disbelief to accept.
The drama doesn’t redeem itself by letting the twist crop up at the end of act two, causing Armstrong to fall out with the brothers before deciding on various strategies following their arrest.
In short this drama ditches its general asking the audience what they would do but keeps the flashback structure. That turns Kenny’s Story into Law and Order meets Lost in the English suburbs. Unfortunately it’s 15 minutes too long compared to both those shows. The writing is geared more towards compulsive viewing and re-watching it for this review still had me hooked thanks to the acting, but two parts per story (like Cracker) would give these characters room to breathe rather than the edited highlights we get here. It at least shows that it’s not just American dramatists that will use child abuse for cheap shots to get their programmes highlighted in the press for ratings.
The lack of/sympathy you may feel for Armstrong is the only payoff for the audience as you are expected to make up your own mind. It’s not as off-base as some of the other stories in the series, but could have been much better.
UK viewers can now stream this episode on the BBC iPlayer until 9pm on 27th December 2010. To check for future repeats of the show after this date check the main iPlayer page and click on the alphabetical search bar.