Class Is Back In Session: ‘Ackley Bridge’ Season 3 Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

After looking forward to the show’s return, Ackley Bridge’s Season 3 premiere is a double-edged sword. While most of the student cast are back — with a handful of exceptions like Samuel Bottomley’s Jordan and new additions Spud (Zara Salim) and Ruki (Phoebe Berry) — the teaching staff have been hit hard by Valley Trust’s takeover of Ackley Bridge College. Miss. Keane (Liz White) makes a guest appearance in episode two and Mandy (Jo Joyner) is still in charge, but with a baby coming soon she’s going to have to take maternity leave and the Trust have their own ideas about who should be Acting Head while she’s away.

Among the new hires, Martin (Robert James-Collier) shows the most promise, but the general consensus is most of them are there to clock in and clock out. On a good day, Mandy is lucky if they don’t have headphones on when a fight breaks out (and Mandy isn’t lucky, so this actually happens in episode two), but as low as the bar is set, the situation never feels too dire.
In my review of the first two seasons, one of the things I commended the show for was not forcing student problems to have easy solutions and showing that it can take persistence to get results. Where the students are concerned that still rings true in season three. Sam Murgatroyd’s (Megan Parkinson) home life is explored more when her mother (Natalie Gavin) gets released from prison, and Cory Wilson (Sam Retford) has a big storyline in the second half of the season. Many of the teachers only need to be nudged to show improvement, however, which is encouraging but sometimes makes the issue, as far as this show is concerned, seem exaggerated.
Mandy certainly doesn’t let maternity leave stop her. She just brings her baby along wherever she needs to go, and the material Joyner is given this season as Mandy adjusts to being a single mom is really phenomenal; especially when considered within her larger arc on the show.

All of these things mean big changes for Ackley Bridge, but the sort you’d expect a series to go through — like Naveed (Gurjeet Singh) and Nas (Amy Leigh-Hickman) figuring out where they want to go to university. There is one change that fans of the series won’t see coming, unless they read an article about it in advance. The gravity of the change is recognized, too. Leigh-Hickman shoulders a lot of the emotional weight and while her character’s flip-flopping over Oxford gets rehashed one too many times, her performance, and the writing, in terms of realizing how this change effects every aspect of her life is exhaustive; nothing feels overlooked or rushed.
Even more changes are ahead for Ackley Bridge. The show has already been renewed for a fourth season but with so many graduating this year, it’ll be interesting to see whether the show decides to keep tabs on them or maintain Ackley Bridge College as the main character. Season 3 comes out on DVD this Tuesday and all three seasons are available to stream on Acorn TV.

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