Public Enemies: A masterclass in TV drama.

by | Jan 9, 2012 | All, Reviews

I realised the other day it can be quite easy when you have a blog like this to treat it like a diary. I don’t keep a diary. It isn’t socially acceptable for a man of my age to keep his deepest thoughts down in a little book with a special padlock but I do treat this site as a sort of diary. More often than not I feel more compelled to review something that hasn’t lived up to expectations or has just been plain awful rather than raving about something I enjoyed. That’s the problem isn’t it? It means the series I really enjoy don’t get the same sort of attention. This is partly because I don’t feel anything I can say about them will change how good they were and partly because if a piece of television has left me satisfied or fulfilled I’m happy enough not to write about it.

The recent BBC1 drama Public Enemies was good example of this. It was wonderful piece of drama from one of my favourite writers (Tony Marchant) and because I enjoyed it so thoroughly I didn’t feel if I was to write about it I could add anything constructive other than to sing its praises. Then I thought what’s wrong with singing the praises of something? Surely that’s the point! Surely if I enjoyed something I should sing its praises?! Of course I should! Either that or shout it rooftops but its cold and icy on rooftops this time of year so its far safer to shout and rave here.

Public Enemies got off to something of a rough start. I’m reffering to the last minute decision by the BBC to pull it on Tuesday night and play a Panorama on the Lawrence verdict instead. When it started, a day later than planned it was just as good as I’d hoped.

On the surface it sounded like a story we’d heard or seen before but as the story started to unfold it became clear we’d never seen a drama quite like this before. Tony Merchant’s script showed a side of post—prision life that TV viewers had previously been kept in the dark about. TV had previously taught me that the “free” prisioner leaves the gates behind, are met by a loved one and go on to lead a normal life. Oh no! That is far from the truth.

Daniel Mays was a triumph as convicted murderer Eddie Mottram. Mottram was convicted of the strangling of his young girlfriend. He has become eligible for parole and is set “free” to an outside world which has moved on in the five years he’s been gone. Eddie enters a world where everyone has an iPhone, his friends have more or less disowned him and an outside with more stringent rules than those he faced behind bars. It soon dawns on Eddie and the audience that he is far from free. As I say this was the side of the justice system that I’d never seen before in a TV drama and the execution was wonderful.

This was a whodunit but not as we know it. The more interesting aspects of the drama came as we saw Eddie struggling to build a new life, with a job and a girlfriend but being continually knocked back by the system that was designed to help him get back on his feet. As usual writer Tony Merchant didn’t stray away from the showing the realities that parolees face when they first step back into society and this was what made the drama so engrossing and engaging You knew you were in good hands. It was real, this wasn’t manufactured for the sake of drama. As an audience we immediately took to Daniel Mays character as he grew more and more angry and frustrated by the vicious cycle he found himself in.

We’re only a few weeks into the New Year and I’ve already seen a fair few trailers for films proclaiming the next Hollywood blockbuster to be “The Best of the Year!” So using them as my inspiration I’m going to proclaim Public Enemies “One of the Best Dramas of 2012!”

If it had a flaw (which I’m almost certain it didn’t) is that it ended a little too abruptly. The relationship between Eddie and parole officer Paula had just reached its peak when the final credits began to roll and I found myself yearning to know more. Then again that’s also a sign of just how engrossed by the characters and their story. Honestly when it comes to drama of this quality its hard to beat the BBC.

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Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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