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Tuesday, 23 March 2021

REVIEW: Unforgotten is becoming the best drama on television.

This series of Unforgotten has been one of the best ever and, perhaps because of that, the episodes have whizzed by. I cannot believe we’re nearly at the end of series four.  The dark secrets of our surviving suspects are stacking up, and the past is about to finally catch up with them. The realism here is for me the most compelling part of the story - none of these crimes are totally outlandish, all their dodgy dealings and moments of guilty feelings are based in reality. This has always marked Chris Lang's series out as quite different to the ghoulish, gothic horror so popular in Scandi police dramas.

The many problems in the lives of the suspects and our leads Cassie (Nicola Walker) and Sunny (Sanjeev Bhaskar) are all very relatable. This series has touched on relationships with estranged family, money troubles, dementia, pregnancy issues, racism, mental health at work and general feelings of inadequacy that dog people all their lives. We’re watching lives unravel and long-buried secrets dug up and examined in the cold light of day. 

Matthew Walsh was the victim 30 years ago, but the suspects' families are victims too; Fiona’s innocent family traumatised as she desperately unburdens herself, Ram’s wife considering ending a much-wanted pregnancy while his internalised anger and violent history upends their future. Liz and Dean’s families are yet to find out exactly how shadowy a past they have, but that reckoning is due. Ram and Sunny’s interactions have put the spotlight on Asian police officers working in an institution entrenched in racism. Ram has skillfully deflected his poor behaviour onto his accusers, hiding his criminality behind genuine difficulties that ethnic minority police officers suffer. So far, anyway.

We know now that thirty years ago Ram was Fiona’s defender, fighting with her rapist. Matthew is then spotted by the gang weeks later, and Ram and Rob want to teach him a lesson. They stop the car and give chase followed by Dean, then Liz and Fiona. Or so Fiona says. She is the weak link in the conspiracy, ready to confess. Contrast her interview with Ram’s in the last episode - he’s unflappable and stoic; she’s a nervous wreck. But is she telling Cassie and Sunny the whole truth of that night? I doubt it.

The conspirators were a sorry little gang, this band of five newly qualified cops without family support for their chosen careers, protecting themselves and each other for all this time. The burden of guilt weighs heavy on them all. As Fiona says during her questioning, their lives changed in an instant, from quietly normal to a paranoid existence they could never have planned for.

In her frustration, Cassie has shown her hand too early, against Sunny’s advice and spooked the already paranoid Ram Sidhu (played by scene-stealing Pahldut Sharma), whose sketchy personal conduct as a policeman has taught him a thing or two about defending himself against allegations, real and false. Unforgotten always shows us slow and steady teamwork is what wins the case, and as Cassie has been forced back to work while still struggling with unresolved mental health issues, she’s not in the right frame of mind for the job. Exactly as we all predicted in episode one.

The disposal of the body in this series is a visceral dramatic moment. Given how unusual and how well preserved the victim is in this case, it has had more screen time than normal, but Unforgotten is ultimately about justice for people who have been lost and forgotten. Cassie's team are sensitive, shedding light on their victims’ final moments and above all remembering the person, never using the corpse as just a grizzly prop.

The conceit of the series is the bringing together of disparate people and stories. We always have a cast of suspects by the end of episode one. The actors get the space and screen time to show us a real insight into fully realised characters. The strands of the story always knit together so beautifully, like individual brushstrokes in a masterpiece. Only when we stand back do we see how each blends together as part of the whole picture.

The story is perfectly paced and has never once dragged. I cannot understand how this is the penultimate episode. It feels like it should be the midpoint of the series; that there’s still lots story to tell. The shock ending, which I will not spoil for you, actually stopped me breathing for a moment. How they can possibly wrap up this genius series in under an hour next Monday is the most baffling mystery of all. 

Contributed by Sarah Kennedy 

                   Unforgotten Concludes Monday at 9.00pm on ITV.

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