ACCUSED - Andrew Billen, The Times

Posted on 5th Sep 2012

The end of last week’s Accused, Jimmy McGovern’s exemplary, morally-taxing, emotionally-devouring series of short stories, contained a twist: the disturbed boy’s putative step mum really was trying to poison his family. The twist that lauched last night’s, which followed Stephen (Robert Sheehan), convicted of stabbing her, into a young offender’s institution, was that she probably wasn’t. There to visit him, and in every appearance of vitality, was his father, played with controlled fury by the stand-up John Bishop. But psychotic Stephen had been telepathically spun for the last time by Alastair Campbell. He had strangled himself in his cell.

 

When told of the death, his father let out a strained, almost falsetto, “thank you”, but questions soon replaced shock. Only two people knew the exact circumstances. One was the prison guard Tina who had spotted something wrong with Stephen and told her colleague Frank to “two him up” (writers Isabelle Grey and McGovern trusted us to join dots). The other was Frank, who, sinking amid brutality, under-manning and apathy, neglected to. Tina lied to protect Frank, then told the truth. Thuggish Frank, played with fearsome believability by Ewen Bremner, was misnamed from the start. Having failed to bully Tina into silence, he connived in her rape by a prisoner.

 

Tina was not a saint, although had she been written as one the superb Anna Maxwell Martin would have made her credible. This actress can change from ugly-tough to sexy-soft in a scene without losing her character’s essence. No, Tina’s candour was born of fear of a perjury conviction; she had a family and a new central heating boiler to support. But a mere bath, least of all one filled by exiguous rations of boiled water, would not wash away what was happening in that hell hole into which we consign failed childhoods. The accused was Tina, a political apathetic who futilely let her next young offender escape rather than enter it. Her co-defendants were you and I. The question Accused asked weekly was: what price are we prepared to pay for telling the truth?

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