Accused Deserves To Be Put On Trial

In the first of six standalone dramas written by Jimmy McGovern (The Street), Christopher Eccleston plays William Houlihan, an angry bathroom fitter who may or may not have committed a crime. In the first scene of Accused (Monday 15th at 9pm on BBC1), a sallow Eccleston plods towards a courtroom. But before he gets there we scroll back to the events leading up to his arrest. We'll flip forward every so often to watch the rest of his police-escorted journey from cell to dock.

Back in time, Willy's on the phone to a breathy blonde who isn’t his wife. They’re plotting to break up with their spouses at exactly the same moment (half past six, just as the BBC news reader says "And now it's time to join BBC news teams in your area.") so they can start a new life together. It’s a two-hander that should ooze unsettling deceit, except it’s scripted like a GCSE drama project. Did McGovern go back to bed on writing day one, having thrust his laptop at a pack of teenagers? Did they refuse to give it back? Because the dialogue doesn't improve--it gets worse.

Eccleston, perhaps unsettled by the pubescent prose and lazy plotting, decides he can mask the problems by pumping every scene with adrenalin--enough to revive a ward full of asphyxiating peanut allergy patients. He shakes, shouts and pants his way from disaster to mishap to crossroads and eventually finds himself hunched on a church pew bashing out a recovery deal with God. Here, surely, we should see a pace change. But no, because soon he’s being hassled by a beardy, interfering, mindreading priest who tells Willy he’ll have to give up something really huge--the other woman!--if he’s going to persuade the Almighty to sign off on the pact. Cue more unwarranted shouting. I’d have less trouble buying into a do-the-right-thing sketch on Sesame Street.

There’s not a lot to like about this opening episode, which belongs on daytime TV, if not in the bin. Everything that you think is going to happen does, and the clunky disquiet sewn into each scene quickly becomes infuriating. Whether or not Willy committed the crime he’s accused of you’ll want him locked for life just for being a criminally gloomy cliché.

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