So we’ve reached the final episode of this beautifully acted and instantly gripping series of Accused. It hardly seems fair to only be given four episodes does it? How can we have four episodes of this yet we get “treated to six episodes of god awful sitcom Citizen Khan! Where’s the justice there!? Writing alongside Jimmy McGovern this week is Isabelle Grey, whose previous credits include The Bill and Midsomer Murders, who has to write for characters that appeared last week as both Sean (Robert Sheehan) and David (John Bishop) feature prominently once again. This is in an unusual step for Accused as characters from previous episodes never normally feature again, but for here (as you’d expect) it works masterfully.
The episode essentially picks up where we left off last week as Sean is transported to a Young Offender’s Institute by prison officer Tina (Anna Maxwelll Martin) where he tells her what we already know namely that it was Alistair Campbell that told him to stab his new step-mother. From the off Tina is fairly worried about Sean as he seems disturbed by his new living arrangements and as he steadily withdraws from everything happening around him she starts to get very worried indeed. Later she feels some progress has been made when she convinces him to write a letter to his mother but she is unaware that his mother has passed away which is something we already knew from watching last week’s episode. Tina passes her concerns onto fellow officer Frank (Ewan Bremner) who promises to sort everything out however he then forgets about this with this mistake echoing throughout the rest of the episode. Tina then finds Sean has attempted to strangle himself to death and sets about giving in mouth to mouth possibly making every attempt to revive him until she realises her efforts are futile.
As normal these traumatic scenes are interspersed with Tina sat alone in the dock. It’s a device that some people moan makes Accused too formulaic but it never fails to intrigue me. What has our heartbroken officer done? When questioned by the governor she covers up for Frank saying that she had no concerns about Sean’s well-being however it is this lie that lays the foundation for the rest of the episode and is ultimately why she ends up in court. The guilt starts to set in when Peter (the astonishingly good John Bishop) appears to visit his son and guilt ridden Tina is forced to the bemused father. As the guilt starts to get to her she confides in her husband who convinces her that she must tell the truth however at the same time she doesn’t want to get a friend in trouble. Things get even worse when Peter turns up again asking more questions about what happened and feels that Tina isn’t telling him the whole story. Tina’s eventual decision has massive repercussions as it leads up to a horrific event that changes this once level-headed character into someone who eventually commits a serious offence.
What’s so brilliant about McGovern and Grey’s script is that this is the first time in this series where you’re really not sure where the plot is taking you. The story sets up plenty of possible reasons why Tina may commit a crime however the writers don’t play their hand till the episode’s final scene which I found very refreshing as in all the other episodes I at least I had an idea of why our central characters were in the dock.
Of the characters in Accused who have ended up being arrested I definitely found Tina the most sympathetic as well as the most realistic as a was a woman who simply worked to put food on the table. Tina essentially has to make the sacrifice of working in an intense environment in order to provide for her family which in turn means that she hardly ever gets to see her taxi driver husband as they work different shifts. The writers give an example of the couple’s money worries as they need two thousand pounds to replace their boiler which means even more overtime. It’s a testament to McGovern and Grey that they can even make the mundane activity of installing a new boiler seem incredibly poignant just by adding an extra line into the script.
Last week I praised the striking visual effects in the series. This week the Young Offender’s Institute is presented as a cold place with its dimly lit corridors and small, stuffy rooms giving us the impression that nobody really wants to work there. In addition we view a lot of the scenes via the CCTV footage which is aired on one of the main TV screens in the security room with this theme of surveillance running throughout the episode with one scene in particular using this camera room in quite a sinister way. The prison is also seen as a place of protocol where the governors are more interested in looking after themselves which in turn means that the officers are more reluctant to tell the truth. The writers try an add almost a bit of political commentary by pointing out that certain incidents in this episode wouldn’t have happened if there’d be enough guards to go around and again this is touched upon during her court case.
Of course we’ve come to expect top notch acting talent in the series and Anna Maxwell-Martin doesn’t let us down. She excels as this empathetic character who we see as a caring mother and a tough prison officer often trying to switch off her emotions when she starts work. Though the actress is fairly petite she can still be fairly aggressive standing up to one of the lads who becomes aggressive in the visiting room before Peter hears the shocking news about Stephen. Martin basically puts across the fact that this is a normal woman whose life gets out of hand after one small line and to me she convinces. Ewan Bremner as Frank is also quite a cold character and one that shows little remorse for his actions throughout the episode which are fairly shocking. Robert Sheehan builds neatly on his role from last week as Stephen’s psychological problems increase from the moment he’s trapped in his small cell unable to get away from the voices in his head. For me though, it is John Bishop who once again steals the show with his performances in the visitor’s room and in the final scene demonstrating that he’s an actor who can say so much without saying anything at all.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this is possibly my favourite episode of Accused as it combines a truly relatable character with a believable situation and I personally was gripped throughout despite their being one very shocking scene. The performances and the visual style were both spot on and while I liked the fact that the writers kept us guessing till the very end of the episode in regards to what Tina’s crime actually was. As an overall series Accused has been spot on throughout and as I already mentioned it’s a shame that it’s leaving us so soon but I think we can be grateful that we’ve enjoyed four excellent hours of drama over the last month.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter