Sunday 6 July 2014


Jimmy McGovern thinks the legal concept of joint enterprise is a bad thing, and he's written a one-off drama to show us why.  It has always been something of a controversial matter, as in the case of Derek Bentley, who was hanged for his allegedly saying "Let him have it" to his younger companion, even while he didn't pull the trigger, had learning difficulties, and was arguably urging Christopher Craig to hand over the gun, rather than use it.  Craig, of-course, was too young to hang.

So here we have Johnjo O'Shea (Nico Mirallegro from 'The Village') giving some friends a lift to get a pizza in his brother's car and becoming a horrified getaway driver when they end up claiming a victim instead of a Margherita.  Viewing the lads as a gang, the police want prosecutions under joint enterprise, which means that Johnjo's not being at the murder scene and claiming his innocence of any intent is not a good enough defence.  His parents and those of the victim - a bystander - both want what they perceive as justice for their sons.

This is familiar McGovern territory - the solid working class under threat - and his reputation gets him the airtime to explore the aftermath of this single act of violence for the estranged, bereaved Wards (Susan Lynch and Daniel Mays) and for the bewildered O'Sheas (Jodhi May and Andrew Tiernan).  Arguably, McGovern doesn't need 90 minutes.  A wail of anguish and a throwaway remark are the kind of moments that nail the realities of life for the families in his dramas, and with this calibre of cast it's enough.  Johnjo, like many of the accused in joint enterprise cases, finds himself between a rock and a hard place: get tried for murder and face a potential life sentence, or plead guilty to conspiracy to commit GBH and face a probable 6 years.  His fellow accused manage to persuade the one who actually stabbed the lad to plead guilty to murder, but must then rely on Johnjo to plead guilty to the lesser charge alongside them, or all of them will stand trial for murder.  So despite being genuinely innocent, even of the plan to assault a local lout that the pizza parlour manager was party to, Johnjo faces imprisonment.  His lawyer and his aunt urge him to take the lesser charge, believing that the establishment use joint enterprise "to clear the scum off the streets", while his mother objects on moral grounds (and presumably the rather more prosaic ones that he will emerge with a criminal record).  For Johnjo, a haemophiliac, neither option is desirable.

It's decent drama exploring a deserving subject - apparently a select committee is currently looking into the law that has its basis in preventing duelling in the 18th Century - but weighted here by our knowledge of the fact that Johnjo did not break any law.  For the judge and, had it gone to full trial, the jury, there would be circumstantial evidence in the form of CCTV footage of the car, engine running, outside the pizza parlour and the lads running over to it before driving swiftly away, though the lads claim they would have backed up his plea of ignorance as to their intent.  In other cases, such as those where someone in his position is guilty of involvement in a conspiracy to murder or cause GBH, then might there be some positives to this charge?  We hope the select committee will look carefully at the issue, but it'll take more than that to stop random violence among young men, or prejudice on the part of prosecutors.

McGovern's next project, due to air next year, is 'Banished', set in an 18th Century Australian penal colony and concerning the lives and loves of prisoners.  So, no topical arguments then?  Doubtless our Jimmy will find a way to reflect our own crumbling prison system, with a bit of Brookside-in-bodices thrown in.

Thursday 3 July 2014

The Honourable Woman

We weren't all that crazy about Blick's previous dramatic outing in 2011, 'The Shadow Line'.  It was one of those intriguing but flawed pieces we wanted to like but....  'The Honourable Woman' has been trumpeted as this year's serious BAFTA contender with a stellar cast including Hollywood's Maggie Gyllenhaal and a storyline encompassing the unending conflict in the middle-east.

So far, this is a huge improvement on its predecessor, which was willfully opaque and overblown.  Not that this is the kind of drama you can snooze through, by any means, and nor does it deal with smaller themes.  Ms. Gyllenhaal plays Nessa Stein, who with her brother Ephraim (Andrew Buchan) directs the legacy of her rich Israeli father, who was killed in front of them when they were children, 29 years previously.  Nessa makes an enemy of a friend when she awards a communications contract for Palestine to a Palestinian.  Unknown to her, the recipient is already dead, having been murdered by killers who made it look like suicide.  Newly created a cross-party peer, Baroness Stein of Tilbury has secrets.  She tells us little more in her voice-over, but we're introduced at a steady pace to her bodyguard, her PA, her brother's family and a Foreign Office operative who knows her secret (Eve Best, from 'Shadow Line').  Another hangover from the other series is slightly rumpled, slightly sinister Stephen Rea as an about-to-be-retired spy who is drawn into the suspicious death, and who will no doubt have to call on his embittered ex (Lindsay Duncan) in the process.  Then there's the Israeli woman who helps Ephraim with his family, and has a past with Nessa in the Gaza Strip.  Whatever happened 8 years ago is catching up to the Steins by the end of the hour, leading Nessa to a tense, nighttime run through Hyde Park with unforeseen consequences.

Part one of eight and we'll keep watching.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderful as Nessa, with a flawless English accent and a performance of poise and gravitas as the self-possessed, super-rich but damaged businesswoman.  A sense of doom hangs around her, evidenced by protests that dog her even to a musical evening and a hounding by a radio presenter.  There's also the poignant music, which is currently balancing between adding atmosphere and instructing the audience that hey, this is tragic stuff, but is in danger of veering towards the latter.  Whatever the secrets are, Blick will no doubt unfold them in unexpected, cleverly-measured ways, and with the superb cast and the script thankfully understated, we're hoping this will be the rich experience it promises to be.