Magazine article The Spectator

Hard Times

Magazine article The Spectator

Hard Times

Article excerpt

Courtroom dramas filled the schedules this week, with Jimmy McGovern writing a series for the BBC called Accused (BBC1, Monday). Mr McGovern, who invented Cracker, does grim. In a McGovern drama, things start badly in the first five minutes.

Then they get worse. Occasionally, events might take a turn for the better. Ha! Don't be fooled. They are about to get unimaginably grimmer.

It would be fun if the BBC persuaded him to adapt some P.G. Wodehouse. 'Biffo Prendergast is hopelessly in love with the Hon. Letitia Honeysett. But the bluebird of happiness is about to be sucked into the aircraft engine of his life. She accuses him of rape and, thanks to evidence planted by a rival, he goes down for 12 years.' Or, 'Furious at being ordered about by Lord Emsworth, Wellbeloved feeds the peer to his own pigs.

A life of squalor, misery and degradation follows.'

This week's episode told the story of Willy, a builder who was deeply in debt. He was also on the brink of leaving his wife for another woman who was, in turn, married to a violent and abusive man. In McGovern land, most men are violent and abusive. Willy, played with grim bewilderment by Christopher Eccleston, takes a sledgehammer to the property of the bloke who owes him money, and a fist to his lover's husband. So far, so grim. But we can imagine the scene over lunch at a half-decent London restaurant. BBC1 head of drama: 'Love it so far, Jimmy. The stroppy teenagers are a nice touch. But I'm thinking, can we get a little more grim? Give him a drink problem, maybe? Let him start a quarrel with a priest?

Credit card refused in front of his daughter's in-laws? Here at the Beeb we can always use more misery.'

'Your wish is my command, ' says McGovern jokily, while forbearing to mention that secretly he had a happy ending in mind.

So of course Willy nicks £20,000 of drug money. Memo to characters in BBC dramas: almost all cash above ten quid is drug money, and they will come to get you if you nick it. Steal from old ladies or the poor box instead - it's safer.

At the very last, Jimmy sneaked in a happy ending, of sorts, when Willie realised that he loved his wife and family far too much to leave them. But since he's just got six years for a crime he didn't commit (the one man whose evidence could have got him off was beaten to death by the drug barons, naturally) he's got to leave them anyway. …

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