Common, BBC1, Nico Mirallegro, Susan Lynch, Jodhi May, Daniel Mays PREVIEW

Margaret Ward (SUSAN LYNCH), Johnjo O'Shea (NICO MIRALLEGRO), Coleen O'Shea (JODHI MAY)
In the frame – Johnjo, with Margaret and Colleen. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Sunday, 6 July, 9pm 

Story: When seventeen-year-old Johnjo O’Shea gives his friends an impromptu lift to a pizza parlour, he doesn’t expect to find himself charged with murder. 

JIMMY MCGOVERN has written some unflinching dramas, with his series including Accused and The Street. Full of moral dilemmas and often uncomfortable to watch, they are a long way removed from your average costume drama or cop procedural.

Common is also another unsettling tale, all the more so because it explores a real contemporary legal controversy, the Joint Enterprise or Common Purpose law under which someone can be charged with a crime for being in the company of the person who commits it. This is actually the second drama dealing with the issue, following 2012’s Murder: Joint Enterprise on BBC2, which was similarly hard-hitting.

DI Hastings arrives for Johnjo

Teen Johnjo jumps at the chance to the drive his cousin and a couple of his big mates to get a pizza. He’s left in the car, but when the trio spill out of the pizza he soon realises that one of them, Kieran, has stabbed another lad for looking at him.

Johnjo goes to the police

From then on, Johnjo (Nico Mirallegro) is lost in a legal maze, the victim’s family is obviously

Johnjo O'Shea (NICO MIRALLEGRO), Tony Wallace (PHILIP HILL PEARSON), Colin McCabe (JACK McMULLEN), Kieran Gillespie (ANDREW ELLIS)
In the dock – Johnjo, Tony, Colin and Kieran

distraught, while Johnjo and his family are under threat from Kieran’s family.

It seems like common sense when JohnJo’s cousin tells him, ‘You can put your hand on your heart and say you knew nothing about it… we’ll back you up… you’ve got nothing to worry about.’

And when Johnjo goes to the police and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m just telling the truth,’ he doesn’t even want a lawyer.

Susan Lynch is moving as the victim’s mum

This conflict between Joint Enterprise and natural justice has clearly agitated the award-winning McGovern for some time, and that sense of exasperation and outrage makes this a compelling and provocative 90 minutes.

Every top British actor seems eager to work for the writer – the late Bob Hoskins, Christopher

Royal Court Judge (SIR MICHAEL GAMBON)
Administering justice (Sir Michael Gambon)

Ecclestone, Juliet Stevenson, Sean Bean, Peter Capadi, Jane Horrocks and many more – but, goodness, does he put them through the emotional wringer. Susan Lynch is superb as the victim’s mother, raging at her estranged husband (Daniel Mays), grieving and struggling to pay for her son’s burial. Jodhi May has never been more affecting as Johnjo’s mother, and their two characters articulate the callous injustice exacted on families.

But despite all the tears and anger and legal brutality, the drama is full of tenderness, even for the less sympathetic characters, and moments of humanity. In other words, it’s a typically passionate McGovern story.

Cast: Nico Mirallegro Johnjo O’Shea, Susan Lynch Margaret Ward, Jodhi May Coleen O’Shea, Daniel Mays Tommy Ward, Andrew Tiernan Peter O’Shea, Robert Pugh DI Hastings, Michelle Fairley Shelagh Wallace, Philip Hill Pearson Tony Wallace, Andrew Ellis Kieran Gillespie, Jack McMullen Colin McCabe, Ben Smith Patrick O’Shea, Sir Michael Gambon Royal Courts Judge

Check out these links…
Our review of Murder: Joint Enterprise
Guilty by Association is a BBC1 documentary (Monday, 7 July) about Joint Enterprise

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The Ice Cream Girls, ITV, with Jodhi May and Lorraine Burroughs

The Ice Cream Girls on ITV, with Jodhi May and Lorraine Burroughs
Jodhi May and Lorraine Burroughs in The Ice Cream Girls. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV: starts Friday, 19 April, 9pm

Story: Two vulnerable teenage girls are accused of murdering their schoolteacher in the summer of 1995. For seventeen years, the two girls go their separate ways, Poppy having been charged with the murder, while Serena has married a doctor and started a family. Now in 2013, their paths cross again.

ITV is flush with excellent crime dramas in April. During the week of 13 April it will be showing Scott & Bailey, Broadchurch will be nearing its finale and Endeavour and The Ice Cream Girls will be launching.

The latter is a three-part drama derived from a bestseller by Dorothy Koomson. The Ice Cream Girls is how the press dubbed the two teenage girls who were the only witnesses to a murder, Serena and Poppy having briefly been friends during the summer of 1995.

Holli Dempsey as Young Poppy, Georgina Campbell as Young Serena in The Ice Cream Girls on ITV
Old mates – young Poppy and Serena

Seventeen years later, Serena is still disturbed by a love affair she had then with her teacher, Marcus Hansley, a passion that ended in murder. Serena fled the seaside town of her youth and moved to Leeds, where she married a doctor and had a daughter.

Poppy and Serena are back in town 
As the drama begins, Serena moves back home with her family to help her sister cope with her ailing mother. She is on edge, haunted by the past.

It just so happens that Poppy is finishing her sentence for murder and is about to return home too. She is also plagued by what occurred all those years before, and wants to confront Serena and the tragic events that bound them together. Everyone thinks Poppy murdered the teacher, but did she? That’s the question hanging over their lives.

It’s a riveting opening to the drama, with equally fine performances from Lorraine Burroughs as a jittery Serena and Jodhi May as the young woman with a prison pallor who gradually starts to assert herself once she gets used to being on the outside again.

Martin Compston as Marcus in The Ice Cream Girls on ITV
Teacher with secrets – Marcus

Martin Compston as the teacher with a dark side
Serena is so on edge she races away from a cop who stops her for speeding. She has never told her husband about her involvement in the trial. Meanwhile, Poppy has to deal with moving back with her mother and hostile stepfather.

Martin Compston is creepy as the victim and teacher with a dark side revealed in flashbacks. Poppy closes in on Serena, visiting her unknowing husband at his surgery, and there are twists to come in episode two before the women come face to face.

It’s a skilfully made and atmospheric thriller about believable characters trapped by a vulnerable moment in their young lives. Full of surprises, it rounds off a terrific week for ITV drama.

Cast: Jodhi May Poppy, Lorraine Burroughs Serena, Holli Dempsey Young Poppy, Georgina Campbell Young Serena, Martin Compston Marcus, Bryan Dick Al, Dona Croll Rachel, Nicholas Pinnock Evan, Dominique Jackson Vee,  Sara Powell Fez, Eleanor Methven Liz, Owen Roe Jim, Kathy Kiera Clarke Marlene, Michael Mcelhatton Brian, Patricia Martin Poppy’s Gran, Gail Brady GP Receptionist, Dylan Tighe Poppy’s Lawyer, Laura Jane Laughlin Serena’s Lawyer, Caitríona Ní Mhurchú Sgt Reynolds         

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The Scapegoat starring Matthew Rhys, Sheridan Smith, Eileen Atkins PREVIEW

Jodhi May, Matthew Rhys, Alice Orr-Ewing, Sheridan Smith
Double-dealings in The Scapegoat. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV1: Sunday, 9 September, 9pm

Story: Teacher John Standing has just lost his job when his life takes a turn of bizarre and dangerous proportions. He meets a man in a pub-hotel who is his exact likeness. Johnny Spence is a charmer who wines and dines John, but when John wakes the following morning, Johnny has disappeared with John’s clothes. Johnny’s driver then arrives to take John ‘home’, which turns out to be a huge country estate…

The Scapegoat is based on a Daphne du Maurier story of swapped identity. It has an engrossing performance from Matthew Rhys in the dual role of brutish Johnny and sensitive John, who are the spitting image of each other, along with a terrific cast in Sheridan Smith, Eileen Atkins, Jodhi May, Alice Orr-Ewing and Andrew Scott.

Sheridan Smith, Matthew Rhys

It also looks fabulous, a convincing vision of the 1950s, with subdued lighting and rich red tones, all within the setting of a dowdy but magnificent country estate in decline.

The only problem is that you have to take the story with a huge dose of salt. Two men may look alike, but the idea that their speech, manner, hairstyle and everything else were so close that one of them could move into the other’s family, make love to his wife etc, and no one would notice really borders on the daft.

Matthew Rhys enjoys himself, particularly as the evil Johnny
Doubles are fun, no mistake. Everyone from Stalin to Saddam Hussein’s had one, though Charlie Chaplin’s failure in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest shows how hard it is to convince people you look like yourself. And the lookalike is a staple of literature, from The Man in the Iron Mask and A Tale of Two Cities to Coraline.

Eileen Atkins

So if disbelief can be suspended there is intrigue and fun to be had, and Matthew Rhys, star of Brothers and Sisters and brilliant in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, certainly enjoys himself here, particularly as the evil Johnny Spence.

Johnny is a bastard, loathed by his family, with debts on his country estate. His sister hates him, mother tolerates him, he’s sleeps with his brother’s wife, among other mistresses, and is generally spiteful and nasty. What he wouldn’t do to escape the mess of his life.

Daphne du Maurier

Alice Orr-Ewing

And then he by chance encounters a man who is the spitting image of himself, a quiet bloke, a teacher who’s just been fired. Johnny has a boozy evening with doppelganger John, but in the morning is nowhere to be seen, having left with John’s belongings.

Hungover John is bemused by the offer of a lift from Johnny’s chauffeur in their luxury car, and before he knows it he is at Johnny’s crumbling stately home. It is amusing watching John bumbling around the house, seduced by the nobs’ lifestyle and blagging his way into their world.

Andrew Scott

There is dark humour along with themes personal to du Maurier, author of stories such as Rebecca, The Birds and Don’t Look Now, themes of the neglected daughter, the young manipulated wife who feels inadequate, the ominous presence of a doppelganger. And of course there is the all-seeing housekeeper.

It is hard to get away from feeling that the central story is so contrived – John being so good, Johnny so rotten – but by the end of this 90-minute thriller when events turn murderous, the production and actors certainly cast du Maurier’s suspenseful spell.

Cast: Matthew Rhys John Standing/Johnny Spence, Sheridan Smith Nina, Jodhi May Blanche, Eileen Atkins Lady Spence, Alice Orr-Ewing Frances, Andrew Scott Paul

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