Guilty Or Not Guilty: Reviewing British Anthology Series Accused, Series 1&2

by Rachel Bellwoar

Nobody ever sets out to be accused. All it takes is one mistake, an accident or bad decision, a wrongful allegation, and your life is changed forever. This is what Accused demonstrates over the course of ten episodes. It’s easy to say “That could never be me” but many of the defendants who find themselves on trial would’ve said the same — not because they’re harboring unrealistic ideas about themselves but because, until recently, they were law abiding citizens. You can never know for certain what life has in store for you, and the characters on this show learn that the hard way with charges that are sudden and unexpected yet have the power to send them away for years.

Accused is an anthology show so you’re not required to watch the episodes in order, and the cast is full of familiar faces, so it might be tempting to jump around. Doctor Who fans alone have their choice between Christopher Eccleston, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker. With series two there’s more of a reason to watch them in sequence, but the same isn’t true of series one, and it might be better to go with a different episode for the opener. “Willy’s Story,” which stars Eccleston, doesn’t deserve to be skipped, but it feels like the wrong one to start with, and going from “Willy” to “Frankie’s Story,” the show’s military episode starring Ben Smith (though there are references to the war throughout the series) is rough and discouraging. Willy needs money but there’s this priest character who seems to be onto him the entire time and his uncanny appearances diminish the realism of the episode.

“Kenny’s Story” is the easiest to understand what went wrong. You can put yourself in his shoes and imagine making the same decisions, and that’s scary, given he’s facing jailtime. Kenny is played by Mark Warren and in a behind-the-scenes featurette show creator, Jimmy McGovern, describes the episode as being the hardest to write (at the time there was no series two) and “nearly autobiographical” (which could explain why it’s so believable).

Loved ones play an interesting role throughout the series. Often, they’re the ones encouraging the main character to do the right thing – snapping them out of self-preservation mode and back to reality. “Mo’s Story,” starring Anne-Marie Duff, runs a little differently because in that episode Mo’s mother (Ruth Sheen) wants to cover-up the crime. They live in an estate where there’s a lot of gun violence and it puts survival first.

“Helen’s Story” is a masterpiece starring Capaldi and Juliet Stevenson. Maybe some of it could be considered contrived but it doesn’t matter, when the end result is so beautiful. You completely believe in the marriage they present on screen, the actors are next level, and I would happily spend another ten hours with this couple.

While her episode doesn’t suffer for it, “Tina’s Story” (featuring Anna Maxwell Martin) seems to overlook some workplace protocol. This could be knocked down to corruption at the prison where she works, but it’d be nice to know for certain. Then there’s “Tracie’s Story,” which stars Sean Bean as a cross-dresser and uses the word “transvestite” in the episode description. Especially in light of TV show’s like Pose, where LGBTQ people are telling their own stories, I’m not sure this episode holds up in 2019. Most of Accused does though, and while it’s not always the most uplifting of shows, that only means we should be looking at our prison systems more closely.

Accused is available on DVD and streaming on Acorn TV.

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