Last week somebody noted that I didn’t give credit to Jimmy McGovern’s co-writers on Accused and it’s a fair comment as every week he does work alongside another writer to create these brilliant stories. This week’s co-writer is Danny Brocklehurst, who last year penned the brilliant Exile as well as having previously worked with McGovern on The Street and an episode of series one of Accused. Here the pair tell the tale of Stephen Cartwright, (Robert Sheehan) a young bowling alley employee who may or may not have psychiatric issues so as we view the story through his eyes we don’t know how much his opinion of the other characters can be trusted.
As the story opens Stephen’s father Peter (John Bishop) has hired residential nurse Charlotte (Sheridan Smith) to care for his terminally ill mother. Right from the offset Stephen is slightly suspicious of Charlotte’s motives as he notices a several of the buttons on her uniform are undone to reveal a bit of cleavage. He also sees her demonstrate how easy it is to give herself injections for the pain. Inevitably Stephen’s mother passes away so for a while he, his father and his brother Dom (Josh Bolt) have to learn without her however soon Stephen’s world is turned upside down when Peter starts seeing Charlotte. Charlotte continues to get her feet comfortably under the table of the family home and tries to boss around the two boys. Stephen struggles to take her authority seriously by refusing to wash the dishes after she asks him to. Though he feels he’s got one over on her his demons start to to take control.A ghostly Alastair Campbell informs him, via the TV screen, that Charlotte is going to start making out that Stephen’s illness is causing him to be paranoid about her taking his mother’s place. As events go on he starts to get more and more agitated as he believes she is trying to harm everyone close to him but he struggles to get anybody to listen to him.
It’s a shame that this series of Accused has been such a strong one as for me Stephen’s story is possibly the weakest episode of the bunch. That may be due to the detached nature of the lead character. McGovern and Brocklehurst have created a lead character who spends a lot of the time dazing off into the distance who often has visions of his departed mother and is completely suspicious of the motives of most of the people around. It’s clear that the writers wanted us to constantly question if Stephen’s thoughts about Charlotte were warranted as we never once saw a scene with her where he wasn’t present. Everything we learn about Charlotte we learn from Stephen’s point of view. If there’s anyone to empathise with here than it’s Peter. He is a man who lost the love of his life and is simply trying to move on with another woman who happens to be the nurse of his late wife. He’s a man torn between Charlotte and Stephen the situation comes to a point where he is forced to take sides.
What I did like about this episode of Accused was the visual style employed to show Stephen’s possible descent into madness and his failure to cope with the new situation he finds himself in. Personally I thought the scenes in the bowling alley were superb as we saw Stephen surrounded by a mass of flashing lights and loud noises coming from the various arcade games and when combined with constant thud of balls being thrown down lanes make this an environment where the paranoid Stephen can block out the thoughts he has about Charlotte. I also enjoyed the voices in Stephen’s head coming via Alastair Campbell, a person who nobody should really listen to for advice, as it made his paranoia almost seem observe with the former spin doctor warning him against the woman who would possibly become his step-mother.
As far as the performances go I was really impressed with Robert Sheehan in the lead role as this somewhat detached, possibly ill character he reigned back his usual cheeky charm which I found a bit much when he played Nathan in Misfits. Even though I found it hard to sympathise with his plight at times. This was a young man who’d had to deal with a lot and was visibly struggling to cope with the latest development in his home life. This episode of Accused also kicked off an autumn in which we will be seeing a lot of Sheridan Smith in dramatic roles and here as Charlotte she was utterly brilliant as a woman who may or may not have an ulterior motive. Smith’s greatest quality here were her slightly evil stares where you felt she may have actually committed some of the crimes that Stephen has already found her guilty of. The star of the show though was John Bishop who, like Olivia Coleman last week, was a character coping with great loss and trying to start anew in the only way he thought he could. There were several scenes towards the end of the episode in which Bishop was so convincing that I almost forgot that this was the loud scouse comic who has his own Saturday night show on BBC1.
While not as instantly memorable as the last two episodes of Accused, Stephen’s Story has a lot going for it namely three great performances from Sheehan, Smith and Bishop. The visual style of the episode was also striking with the neon-glow and noisy atmosphere of the bowling alley being the element of this instalment that will probably stick with me the most. Overall though McGovern and Brocklehurst have once again crafted a story where there is no definite answer to whether the person in the dock should be found guilty or innocent and to me that is by far the best thing about the drama as a whole.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter