Jimmy McGovern’s Accused series is attracting largely positive reviews already, and it’s not hard to see why. Instead of giving the standard police procedural or legal side of the story, they look at the events and decisions that lead up to the crime and only pay the briefest of attention to the courtroom drama.
I should quickly mention that I watched Willy’s Story, the first part of the series, a little late last week. Christopher Eccleston was stunning as the tradesman who’d fallen on hard times and made one bad decision that led him to be on trial for handling counterfeit money.
This week’s episode – Frankie’s Story – goes to prove that there aren’t going to be many happy endings in this series. Because the story begins with the “accused” in custody, in a courtroom, and we see the events that lead to them being in court. In that way, the tension is high from the very start – we know there’s a serious charge behind the story, but we don’t know what it is.
It should be a simple matter of filling in the blanks, but there are so many open questions that Accused manages to be intense and engaging from start to finish.
Frankie’s Story features a pair of ne’er do wells who end up getting into a scrap in a pub (in hilarious circumstances), and decide to join the army to duck their way out of the charges. However, when they get there (Iraq, I think), Peter is picked on by the repugnant Lance Corp Buckley and is made the camp ‘bitch’.
The abuse continues, and even Frankie feels the pressure to bully Peter or face Buckley’s wrath. But events take a tragic turn when Peter walks out of the tent at night and shoots himself in the head. The suicide – and his part in it – continues to haunt Frankie, and he confronts Buckley about the bullying. However, Buckley has a fantastic way of rationalising away his vile behaviour, but to get Frankie out of his hair, he arranges for him to accompany the body home.
But back home, Frankie faces awkward questions from Peter’s father (a fantastically sombre and slightly intimidating Robert Pugh), and eventually concedes the truth about the suicide.
Returning to the army, Frankie tries to get the truth about the bullying told, but the hierarchy are complicit in the cover-up. Having exposed himself by grassing up Buckley, Frankie becomes the camp bitch and the torture continues anew. Pushed to his limits and suffering flashbacks to his friend’s suicide, Frankie takes matters into his own hands one night and stabs Buckley.
If you thought the study in reprehensible human behaviour was over, it’s not. Peter’s father puts pressure on Frankie not to reveal the suicide because it would destroy the family’s memories of Peter. However, by covering up the whole story – including the extreme bullying and traumatic circumstances – Frankie essentially ends up taking the full weight of the law, 25 years minimum term in prison.
The irony, of course, is that he didn’t commit the original crime in the bar – Peter did the punching – but even if he’d taken the rap for that, he’d only have faced three years maximum. But by taking what both lads thought was the easy way out, they ended up in a much more dire situation.
Thanks to the way these stories are told, the ending is always heartbreaking. It shows how seemingly inconsequential decisions set tragic events in motion. Frankie’s Story was almost classical tragedy in that regard, and I walked away from this episode with a heavy heart. Congratulations are in order to the primary actors here – Mackenzie Crook, Benjamin Smith and Ben Batt.
My only criticism is quite subjective. I find it hard to believe that Frankie was so ridden with guilt that he would willingly sacrifice 25 years of his life by refusing to fight the charge. He didn’t feel the same guilt that his wife would have to raise a child while he was in prison, that he’d let them down. Yes, perhaps he felt he had to take some measure of punishment, but while he was weighing up Peter’s father’s words, I’m fairly certain his barrister and his wife would have had opposing points of view in this matter.
To end on a high note though, I love how this series has a different cast, a different story each week. It gives the show a fresh start with each episode and allows us to watch humans being flawed and horrible and end up in situations where you feel complete empathy for them. It’s far better than The Bill, that’s for sure.