ACCUSED - Caitlin Moran, The Times

Posted on 18th Aug 2012


If you were still yearning after all the other stuff from the Olympics — not the patriotism but the gasping, tension, heartbreak, crying and human excellence — then the return of Accused worked by way of an air-punching, hour-long substitute.

 

Jimmy McGovern doesn’t really write scripts, or “some telly”. When CrackerThe Street and Hillsborough were at their best, you weren’t watching from the sofa. You were somewhere inside the television, instead — so close to the action you worried you could get hurt if it all went wrong.

 

In Tuesday’s opening episode of AccusedTracie’s Story I spent the last ten minutes with my hand over my mouth, shallow-breathing; wincing over things that were said and done as if I feared that the people I was watching might brush past me or suddenly snap “What you looking at?”. It was physically affecting — that brilliant, drug-like transcendence where you’re floating inside a story, being pulled along by its downhill current. That it was so fully immersive is all the more amazing when you consider that the one-line pitch for the story was “Get this: Sean Bean plays a transvestite!” Possibly the only “Bean” lower on most casting directors’ lists to play a transvestite would be “Mr Bean”. Or maybe “some Baked Beans”. Let’s face it — Sean Bean has spent the past twenty years playing gruff alpha-cocks: Sharpe in Sharpe, Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, and Lord “Ned” Stark in Game of Thrones. As Bean put it in an interview with The Times last week, discussing scripts his agent gets sent: “All the usual stuff, ‘And then Sean Bean comes in and chops his head off with a sword’.”

 

But here, as “good time girl” Tracie — all blue shimmery eyeshadow, clattering heels and fun-fur shrug — Bean was so believable that the casting-dissonance lasted fewer than three seconds. An Olympics counter on the screen, keeping track of viewers’ reactions, would have registered:

 

00:00:01: “OMG it’s Boromir in knock-off Karen Millen!”

00:00:03: “Don’t take that shit from that cab driver, Tracie! How rude! Stick it to him! Go on, girl!”

 

And that was it. For the next 59 minutes and 57 seconds, we were watching Tracie Tremarco — or, sometimes, her alter ego: bored English teacher Simon — getting sucked into a love affair that inexorably edged towards the dock.

 

Two minutes in, you realised what an idiot you were to ever think that casting Sean Bean was odd. When Tracie walks into a bar (bartender: “Jesus!”, Tracie: “Tracie, actually.”), and sits on a stool, sipping her cocktail, it’s with the same kind of lone-warrior bravery as Boromir, or Ned Stark, going into a losing battle — but, this time, backwards, and in heels.

 

At the same time, she was immensely, heart-breakingly vulnerable, too. Man, you wanted it to all work out for her. I can’t remember the last time I was so on the side of someone in a script.

 

Tracie goes for a make-over, and the make-up artist coos over her. “Look at those cheekbones!” she says, brushing highlighter over them; all giggly girlconfidences. Tracie beams. Later that day, Tracie hears what the make-up artist was really thinking, from the man she loves, Tony (Stephen Graham), who has gone feral, and wants to wound her.

“She said, ‘He wanted to look like Cheryl Cole. I think I managed Myra Hindley’.”

 

Bean’s face just empties out — you can feel the blood draining from his skin and whirlpooling in his guts, where it meets an opposing tide of adrenalin. Could men ever know what it’s really like for a woman to be called “ugly”? How that feels as if it’s the end of everything — your heart burnt right out, your price reduced to zero? Sean Bean’s Tracie knows. And he shows she knows without saying a word.

 

I was full of tears — so sad for this girl who doesn’t exist, played by a boy who doesn’t exist, played by Boromir. So it’s not just global sporting events that can provide drama. Turns out, drama can, too.


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