fri 06/12/2019

The Accident, Series Finale, Channel 4 review - ambitious mini-series leaves many unanswered questions | reviews, news & interviews

The Accident, Series Finale, Channel 4 review - ambitious mini-series leaves many unanswered questions

The Accident, Series Finale, Channel 4 review - ambitious mini-series leaves many unanswered questions

Jack Thorne’s tragic drama aims to give us closure, but is hampered by flat and unconvincing characters

Lost on the way? Sally Lancashire as Polly Bevan

Channel 4’s The Accident closed with a bang and a whimper. Jack Thorne provided a definitive answer to his series’ central question, but his characters and subplots petered out in the meantime.

Over four episodes, this series examined the fallout of a fatal explosion, in a town cloaked by the long shadows of Grenfell and Aberfan. Each episode centred on a kind of reckoning: between old friends, husbands and wives, mothers and widows. But its core tension, as tonight’s episode hammered home, was the standoff between a broken-hearted community and a corporation unmoved by their loss.

The finale began with a court date. More than a year has elapsed since the accident, and the grieving families of Glyngolau are privately prosecuting Harriet (Sidse Babett Knudsen) for corporate manslaughter. Leona (Jade Croot, pictured below) takes to the stand, bearing the emotional and physical scars of the tragedy. Polly (Sarah Lancashire) tries once more to convince Iwan (Mark Lewis Jones) to reveal crucial evidence. As the jury presses towards a verdict, so much hangs in the balance: jobs, jail time, and the families’ homes are all on the line.

With this final episode, The Accident tells us, yes, this was corporate manslaughter. Yes, someone will pay. This outcome should be resounding. And yet the series’ sense of closure feels artificial. In part, this is because it is a symbolic victory. The Accident models the kind of redemption that we are still only imagining for Grenfell and Aberfan. But it is also because The Accident’s triumphant finale conceals its strange foundations — the peculiar character arcs that led us to this point.

After a promising first episode, this series was hampered by a series of red herrings and underdeveloped characters. Consider Martin (Shaun Parkes), the man who saved Leona’s life. Martin is black, and we soon learn he is homeless: suddenly he is given such lifeless dialogue that these traits become his entire character. So when Polly takes him into her home, his only function is to frame her as a good person. Consider Tim (Nabhaan Rizwan), Harriet’s lovesick assistant. He is implausibly devoted to her, even as she fires, smears and humiliates him. His only function is to frame Harriet as the bad guy. Consider DS Hendricks (Kimberley Nixon), the detective who stops investigating Leona, disappears after two episodes, and apparently has no function at all.

These under-used characters are joined by two overcompensating ones. There is Philip (Adrian Scarborough), the lawyer who insinuates himself into the case. Philip’s motives are unclear in the extreme, but no-one truly pries — why bother, when he appears out of nowhere to give timely and impassioned legal advice? Then there is Iwan, Polly’s brute of a husband, who ensures Harriet’s conviction by giving them both up at the eleventh hour. Sure, Iwan has vowed to become a better man. But after months of denial, what leads him to change his mind so drastically, when the shame is so public and the stakes so high? When he reveals his collusion with Harriet, why is there no further explanation? And when he shows penance in the courtroom, what does that mean for his crimes at home?

This episode gives us only one answer, despite its litany of questions. The result is strange. With shallow character development and abridged subplots, The Accident feels like it was written as a much longer series. As if its material was quickly cut and reshuffled and compressed, at the expense of a coherent and complete narrative arc.

It is frustrating to watch, as The Accident’s first episode promised so much — gutsy characters, thorny relationships, clever dialogue. Indeed, none of this criticism is to write the show off entirely. Despite its pratfalls, as a series, The Accident did succeed in being both emotionally affecting and psychologically intense. It was held together by an ensemble of strong actors who played its moments of devastation and its moments of humour with equal strength. This is a show that had great, if grim, potential. But its ambitions were too big for its airtime. The Accident got to the guilty verdict, but got lost on the way.

 

Comments

Personally, as a Dubliner, I was really offended by the reference to the Stardust Disaster in the context of what 'happened' in this story. Initially, I was delighted by the reference - yes, there were parallels, notably the fact that working class communities were also affected. But, in 'The Accident', the children, as well as others, were at fault. WRT the Stardust, NONE of the young people who attended the disco on that fateful night had anything to do with the fatal fire. Not even remotely. I dealt with that story as a journalist and I went through the finally-discredited Tribunal Report. I fully support the Stardust families in their quest for justice. It should have been mentioned in the credits that the story of 'The Accident' insofar as the cause of the tragedy was concerned bore no resemblance to other tragedies referenced such as Hillsborough, the Stardust, etc. This was a major and grave oversight in my opinion.

This series wasn't very well received here in Wales for a particular reason... My review in https://nation.cymru/culture/review-the-accident-what-went-wrong/

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