Accused

The second series of the BBC drama Accused has been as successful as the first. It follows those in the dock, taking us back so that we see the unfortunate circumstances that led to their crime. Even though the prologue of Romeo and Juliet tells us that “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” it doesn’t stop the play gripping its audience, and similarly Jimmy McGovern’s drama draws you. You find yourself rooting for the defendant in the dock as the events surrounding their crime unfold.

The drama is carried by an excellent cast. Sean Bean as a transvestite in an unlikely relationship sustained his episode almost single-handedly, with support from Stephen Graham as his confused lover. Anne Marie Duff and Olivia Coleman both gave outstanding performances as mothers struggling to deal with the impact of local gang culture. Robert Sheehan nuanced performance as troubled teenager Stephen stood out as he depicted a young man struggling with mental health issues and not finding the support he needs. He was supported by Sheridan Smith as a somewhat sinister nurse who becomes Stephen’s step-mother and John Bishop, better known for comedy, who also gave an emotive performance as Stephen’s father. Anna Maxwell Martin was excellent in the final episode as an overworked prison officer who must deal with the fall-out after a prisoner commits suicide.

Accused excels in creating believable dilemmas, where ordinary people face impossible circumstances. Morality is never black and white, and in Stephen’s story not even the facts of the event are clear. We are left in suspense as to whether his suspicions about his step-mother are delusional or founded in reality. Where Accused really succeeds is in continually posing moral questions that challenge the audience; there is no right way to respond in these situations and the characters are trapped by circumstance and the actions of others. It is certainly one of the most gripping and thought-provoking television dramas of recent years.

Parade’s End

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From its announcement, Parade’s End has inevitably drawn comparisons with ITV’s Downton Abbey. I enjoy Downton, but it’s completely outclassed by Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford’s work. I hadn’t read it before I learnt of the BBC adaptation but, borrowing the books from the university library, I found them deeply engaging as a portrait of the tumultuous state of the aristocracy, and the country, in the early twentieth century.

Downton tends to cover social change with quite inconsequential details such as the addition of a telephone to the house, and Sybil’s involvement in the Suffragette movement seems intended largely to generate drama and familial discord rather than to make any insightful point. While Downton portrays the period in a descriptive way, Ford’s work is a detailed exploration of the decline of the aristocracy, the impact of the First World War and changing social ideals.

Both Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens and Rebecca Hall as his wife Sylvia give excellent performances; these characters could have been distinctly unlikeable in the wrong hands. Cumberbatch was the obvious choice for the conservative, intellectual and emotionally repressed Tietjens, and he certainly delivered in his portrayal of the complex emotions suppressed behind Tietjens’ controlled façade. Hall gives Sylvia, portrayed unsympathetically in the books, enough likeability to prevent us from condemning her outright as she amuses herself at the expense of others.

The BBC drama adopts the fractured structure of the novel, flitting between time and place at the start of the first episode. It certainly demands your attention, but is easier to follow than I feared it might be (perhaps aided by the fact that I have read the book). While the first episode largely sets the (rather complicated) scene, I’m looking forward to the next instalment, which promises an increase in the action and the onset of war.

The Go-Between

Last year I fell in love with the musical adaptation of The Go-Between at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and have been meaning to read the book since. Although I still haven’t got round to it, when I saw that a radio adaptation was being broadcast this week I was interested to see how it compared to the musical.

As well as being excellent in its own right, the radio adaptation brought back memories of the musical, which had a beautiful score that perfectly captured the emotions of the story. Being on radio, I was able to apply my memories of the musical to the adaptation; my view of it may have been different if I hadn’t seen the musical or if I had read the book.

While the musical’s set conjured a beautiful sense of the period, one of the benefits of radio drama is its ability to create a framework around which the listener constructs their own ideas. The simplicity of radio drama lends itself both to pared-down storytelling and to dramas set in lavish locations, or which would require extensive special effects (such as The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I find the power of the audience’s imagination fascinating; just as theatre productions with the most minimal sets and props can be the most effective, radio is perhaps the most diverse dramatic medium and provides endless possibilities.

The Go-Between explores the theme of entrapment, whether by family duty, societal expectations or personal feelings. Marian’s mother is plagued by worries over her daughter’s impending nuptials while Marian is forced into an unwanted marriage, and her duty prevents her from pursuing her relationship with the famer Ted. Meanwhile both Ted and Marian force Leon into continuing as their ‘go-between’, playing on his devotion to Marian and disregarding his discomfiture. It is this involvement of a child, who cannot comprehend their affair, that results in the final tragedy.

While I felt that the drama was very good, it was perhaps less emotionally engaging than the musical. This may have been due to the excellent music, or the presence of a real person on stage putting a face to the voice. However, I feel that it was probably down to the fact that although the musical also told the story from the viewpoint of Leo, the other characters received further elaboration than was allowed in the radio drama and the audience therefore felt a greater investment in them. Despite this, standing on its own Radio 3’s The Go-Between remains an interesting and emotive look at love and deception at the turn of the twentieth century.