Accused — Killer TV No.33


Stephen Graham and Sean Bean – Tracie’s Story

BBC1, 2010-2012

‘You’re the bitch. Right? Till you prove yourself in battle, till you return fire when under fire, you’re the bitch.’ Corporal Buckley (Frankie’s Story)

Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Joe Dempsie, John Bishop, Warren Brown, Peter Capaldi, Mackenzie Crook, Juliet Stevenson, Christopher Eccleston, Marc Warren, Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sean Bean, Stephen Graham

Identikit: As each week’s main character climbs into the dock, the events leading to their being accused and tried for a crime are revealed.

‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama’ – that’s how writer Jimmy McGovern described his anthology series. Each story features an ordinary person who ends up in the dock. How did they get there, and do they deserve to walk free or be locked up? The hook for McGovern is the ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ aspect to the lives of many working class people, the fine line between trying to do the right thing and ending up on the wrong side of the law. Such are McGovern’s credentials as the writer of powerful UK television dramas such as Cracker, Hillsborough and The Street that Accused pulled in the cream of British screen talent.

There were two seasons of the drama and the stories are all gnawing dilemmas about ordinary people, some who make mistakes, some who are desperate while others are the victims of circumstance. Helen’s Story stars Juliet Stevenson as a mother driven by the death of her son in a factory accident to break into his workplace and plead with the manager to accept liability for it. When he refuses she later sets fire to the factory. Marc Warren stars in Kenny’s Story, as a guy who, with some friends, goes looking for a man who attacked his daughter in a park, only to beat up and kill an innocent man. This was, apparently, one of the hardest scripts to write, as it was ‘almost autobiographical’ for McGovern, whose daughter was attacked and who went looking for the culprit – ‘Thank god we didn’t find that man…’ And season two opens with Tracie’s Story. Perhaps only McGovern’s involvement could have convinced screen hardman Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Sharpe) to step out of his comfort zone to portray a transvestite, who falls in love with Tony, played by Stephen Graham, another star who usually plays alpha nutters (Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire, for instance). The dramas could be heartrending or tragic with characters of spirit and humour – and were always involving for the viewer. McGovern and his co-writers (including Alice Nutter and Danny Brocklehurst) didn’t judge characters such as Tracie and Tony – who become implicated in a murder – but simply portray normal people in extraordinary situations. Told with great economy, the stories are occasionally stark and once or twice follow an issue (army bullying in Frankie’s Story) a little more than the characters, but each one is compelling and brought alive by electric performances. Accused was not a ratings success, finishing on BBC1 with 3.19 million viewers, but in terms of quality and artistry it was a blockbuster.

Classic episode: Tender and sad, Tracie’s Story is a tale full of human frailty and spirit. Issues of loneliness and identity are explored through Tracie, the bored English teacher who defies the world as a transvestite by night, and Tony, the married man he has an uneasy relationship with. A murder throws a lurid light on these characters, but the drama is gripping all the way. Sean Bean won the Royal Television Society award for best actor.

Watercooler fact: Writer Jimmy McGovern acknowledges that he’s sometimes totally wrong about casting. When MacKenzie Crook, whom McGovern had admired in The Office, was cast in Frankie’s Story, the writer said he would ‘show my bum’ if Crook could convincingly portray a psychotic British Army corporal. ‘I was thoroughly wrong,’ McGovern admitted. ‘It is an absolutely outstanding performance.’

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