The BBC’s new crime drama Sherwood is brilliant. A starry cast, tackling a uniquely British story with an intriguing central mystery that feels tied to its surroundings rather than tacked on to keep viewers interested.
The residents in this former mining village are still deeply divided by their political beliefs and scarred by the closure of the mines. It’s a place where you are defined by who you were rather than who you are now. It’s a place where family names still carry weight and those who weren’t down the pit don’t appreciate the sacrifices those workers made. It’s a place that never forgets which side of the picket line you or your family members were on.
The series, from Nottinghamshire born screenwriter James Graham, feels instantly authentic and the world completely realised and lived in. Graham uses the real-life murders of two former miners from the community as the backdrop to tell a wider story of what happens when an industry that everyone is dependent upon is taken away from them. Some in the community have been able to move on, build careers and adapt, others are still hurt by the events in the past and feel hard done by and robbed. One of those still embroiled in the past is Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong). Jackson was a member of the NUM, the National Union of Mine Workers and was one of the few to keep solidarity with the miners during the strike. The village was predominantly supportive of UDM – a breakaway union that didn’t support the strike and went back to work. James Graham’s script skillfully navigates between both divisions that exist giving voices to both without attempting to side with one in particular.
This is perhaps why Jackson’s family were supportive of Graham’s decision to dramatise his story. He’s found dead in the street. Shot with an arrow through his stomach. His death brings two distant sectors of the community together with DCS Ian St Clair (David Morrissey) tasked with solving the murder and gathering information from his grief-stricken widow Julie (Lesley Manville).
Gary’s death again sees people take sides. The neighbours see him as a proud man with a mouth that could sometimes get him into trouble. His sister-in-law Cathy (Claire Rushbrook) lives a few doors away from Gary and Julie but has long since fallen out with the pair. His fellow miners are quick to jump to his defence, particularly when they spot ‘scab’ Dean Simmonds (Sean Gilder) who had a heated confrontation with Gary before he was found dead. The past is buried just below the surface with every character still bruised by the events of 30 years prior. Even St Clair, who has moved away, is uncomfortable being back on his father’s stomping ground. St Clair was a young PC in 1984 when Jackson and three others were arrested for suspected arson with intent.
When his colleagues mention the fact that the killer used a bow and arrow akin to Sherwood’s famous son Robin Hood, St Clair is quick to shut them down.
“These are good people who don’t want their tragedy turned into some tacky headline”.
The same can be said for everything on screen. The drama never feels overplayed or melodramatic. We don’t see Gary receive the fatal blow, but the sight of him lying bleeding on the deserted road is powerful on its own. James Graham uses the tragedy that happened to the community back in the ’80s and the deaths here, to tell a wider story about how divisions in your politics can turn friends into enemies. The parrels between this and the Brexit debate are plain and often uncomfortable.
There are a lot of characters to meet but the script makes sure we spend enough time with them to gauge exactly who they are. There are so many in fact, that the first episode only introduces us to a handful of the characters that will be pivotal across the six episodes. From the Sparrow family whose reputation is well known to the former Police Officer who may have been responsible for Gary’s charges being dropped in 1984. James Graham is keen that the show isn’t seen as a whodunnit, he dismisses the idea as ‘distasteful’. Although there is a murder, and a family torn apart by it, this is a bigger story not just about Britain as it was but Britain today. It speaks to our need to be for something or against something with no room for debate or grey area. It’s a deeply rich story discussing the type of topics that some dramas of this kind would stay away from. I can’t praise it highly enough.
Sherwood begins Monday 13th June on BBC One.