Contributed by Matt Donnelly
It must be hard when a central cast member decides to leave a popular TV drama and even harder for those who they leave behind. Tony Grounds' army drama Our Girl garnered a lot of positive praise from audiences and critics alike with a lot of people singling out Lacey Turner's performance as medic Molly Dawes.
When the BBC announced they were commissioning a second series the one problem was that Turner had decided to return to Eastenders full time and so wouldn't be available for the series. Step forward another familiar face to soap fans, former Corrie actress Michelle Keegan, who plays another female medic in the form of Georgie Lane. But unlike Molly, Georgie isn't a fish out of water in a dangerous world, Goergie has been doing this for a while and she exudes a confidence that Molly lacked initially. It's a very different show.
The opening scenes didn't focus on Georgie in action on the front line but pouncing on her fiancee Elvis (Luke Pasqualino) on the eve of their wedding. Georgie and Elvis' wedding day takes up the majority of the first ten minutes and allows Grounds to introduce us to our heroine's family headed up by parents Max and Grace (Sean Gilder and Angela Lonsdale). Obviously, as it was occurring right at the beginning of the episode, the wedding wasn't going to smoothly and I was anticipating Elvis ending up having a bad accident on his way to the church. But instead Elvis got cold feet and it was up to his best man and series one regular Captain James (Ben Aldridge) to deliver the news.
The drama then picks up two years later with another encounter between James and Georgie this time with the former offering the latter the chance to work on a six week mission in Kenya. Although she's quick to accept the offer, her latest posting doesn't go down with new boyfriend and hunky doctor Jamie (Royce Pierreson) who doesn't know about her being jilted at the altar.
Things go from bad to worse when the centre is ransacked and one of the head aid workers Kicki (Anna Tenta) is kidnapped.
The first series of Our Girl definitely had its ups and downs and judging by the first episode alone its second run is plagued by similar problems. On the positive front, Tony Grounds has done an excellent job in creating a new and engaging lead character to fill the void left by Molly Dawes. It's a show that shines a spotlight on a world that most of us don't even think about and for that alone the show and everyone involved should be commended. Jumping ahead, the final scenes saw me on the edge of my seat as the team's search for Kicki led to disaster for Georgie.
However, it's when Our Girl steps outside of the refugee camp the problems begin. The banter between Georgie and the soliders just doesn't ring true somehow. Don't get me wrong, I imagine this laddish banter is part and parcel of life for any female member of the army, but it's here the dialogue let's it down with lines like, 'you've got moves like Jagger sir'. Would anyone ever say that? It's a minor niggle but one that ultimately spoils the reality of Our Girl and jars with the world we've supposed to be immersed in.
As with the previous series, when we see Georgie and her colleagues at work the show ticks along at at a wonderful pace, but the script relies a little heavily on Gerogie's relationship with her new boyfriend and Elvis for whom she still holds strong feelings.
I'm sure an actor of the calibre of Luke Pasqualino isn't just popping up for a ten minute cameo so it's safe to assume we haven't seen the last of Elvis. I hope not anyway, we need to know why he's called Elvis! I'm also hoping we get to see more of Georgie's home life. The sweet bond between the family was another thing that defined Georgie as someone very different to Molly.
As somebody who never saw much of her on Coronation Street my only exposure to Keegan was in Ordinary Lies where I felt she wasn't really given a great deal to do. Here however I felt she anchored the series perfectly and made Georgie into a character you could both believe in and sympathise with.
She particularly excelled at communicating how Georgie's emotional turmoil had made her tougher and made sure that her character was a little more forthright than Turner's Molly. Keegan was utterly believable in the scenes in which Georgie had to utilise her medical expertise and she did an equally good job in the action sequences we've come to expect and enjoy.
I may sound like I'm being a little on harsh on this first episode but I did come away confident that Tony Grounds has produced another fine series which feels different from the cavalcade of crime and period drama that we're given on a regular basis.
The show is at its best when all the focus is on the refugee camp in Kenya or during some of the brilliant set pieces. Michelle Keegan also deserves praise for perfectly filling the Lacey Turner-sized hole in the series. I'm just now hoping that Our Girl can sustain the feeling of surprise that I got at the end of the first episode and produce something completely different from what we saw during Molly's story.