Monday, 15 Nov, 9pm, BBC1
Christopher Eccleston plays a man light years from his Doctor Who incarnation. Willy is a plumber who doesn't have all the answers, isn't flamboyantly resourceful and is behaving rather badly. At the same time, Accused is light years from your run-of-the-mill TV crime series.
Written by Cracker creator Jimmy McGovern, the first story joins Willy as his life is spiralling out of control. Eccleston is intense and believable as an ordinary guy who wants to leave his wife for ‘firmer flesh’, but can’t because his daughter has just announced that she is to marry her well-off boyfriend.
So his plan is to pay for the wedding, as pride demands, and then leave Carmel, the unsuspecting wife who still loves him (played movingly by Pooky Quesnel).
But he finds himself in a corner. Expecting several thousand pounds from a series of plumbing jobs he’s done for a builder, Willy learns the firm has gone bust. His behaviour becoming more erratic and desperate, he then sees his fortune change when he finds a Jiffy bag containing £20,000 in the back of a mini cab.
Take the money and run, or hand it in to the driver? Though he does finally try to do the right thing, Willy’s actions have huge consequences for himself, his family and others.
Anyone who enjoyed Jimmy McGovern’s powerful stories for The Street on the Beeb last year will drink in this new series of six crime dramas. These are strong human stories that demand we make up our own minds about the characters’ actions, rather than spelling out a glib moral.
No police procedure
Accused shows us ordinary people who find themselves facing a jury and expects us to decide whether they should be punished. In Willy’s Story, Eccleston’s character is no paragon of virtue, but his fate makes us think.
McGovern spells out his approach to Accused like this – ‘In the time it takes to climb the steps of the court we tell the story of how the accused came to be there. We see the crime and we see the punishment. Nothing else.
‘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.’
This has the makings of being an absorbing series. And if anyone doubts the quality of McGovern’s work, remember that Britain’ top actors clearly love speaking his lines.
Coming up in Accused are Mackenzie Crook, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Capaldi, Andy Serkis, Marc Warren, Naomie Harris and Warren Brown.
Sunday, 14 Nov, 9pm BBC1
Photo © Graeme Hunter/Twenty Twenty Television
The week sees another outstanding but unusual crime series in the schedules. Garrow’s Law is back for series two, last year’s opening season having won a Royal Television Society award.
For those who missed it, these dramas are drawn from the Old Bailey’s online transcripts that have revealed the brilliance of obscure 18-century barrister William Garrow.
And they’re the best courtroom drama seen on TV for years. The stories are a time-machine tour of a period when the Old Bailey was a chaotic last stop for the poor and disadvantaged on the way to an often ghastly, brutal and unfair punishment.
Garrow and the art of cross-examination
This was partly because defence lawyers were too stuck up to do a decent job for the unfortunates dragged to court, often by dodgy thief takers and bounty hunters. The judge or sometimes even the jury would question prosecution witnesses, with m’lud often summing-up the defence case.
Up stepped Garrow, the man who spoke daringly for the accused and played a huge part in perfecting the art of cross-examining their accusers.
Andrew Buchan returns as the man who ruffled many legal and political feathers with his single-minded devotion to a fair hearing. He’s got a tangled and shocking case in the opening story in this new series, one you feel must have come straight from a Horrible Histories publication.
Slaves murdered at sea
The captain of a cargo ship called the Zong throws 133 African slave men, women and children overboard in suspicious circumstances. Of course, the incident lands him in court – not for murder, but because the insurance company feels the captain fiddled his claim.
Garrow is appalled, but as his mentor, John Southouse, reminds him, slaves are cargo and cannot provoke a murder charge. The barrister manages to introduce a freed slave, Gustavus Vassa (played by Danny Sapani), into proceedings, to gasps in the court, in an attempt to get at the truth.
Alun Armstrong and Lyndsey Marshal
Meanwhile, Lady Sarah Hill returns to London with her infant. Her husband, Sir Arthur, is consumed with jealousy at the thought that the child might be Garrow’s and sets out to ruin her and, with the help of his highly placed political friends, Garrow as well.
Alun Armstrong as Southouse, Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah and Rupert Graves as Sir Arthur are all great to watch here. But the real magic is in the portrayal of these extraordinary tales from the Old Bailey.
Shame there’s only four episodes in the series.