Innocent review

This was the second season of a series by Chris Lang, the same writer responsible for the other recent ITV crime series Unforgotten – but involving an apparent miscarriage of justice rather than a cold case.

Like Unforgotten, it focussed on a seemingly unconnected group of characters and events, which all eventually wove together into one coherent whole. As with the original series (from 2018 and starring Lee Ingleby) someone previously found guilty of murder is released from prison and sets about getting their life back together while trying to understand why they were accused and who else might have done the dastardly deed. That makes it sound like a private-detective type thing but actually both seasons were more realistic than that, with the lead characters taking a secondary role in any investigation to the local police.

In this version, young teacher Sally, played by Katherine Kelly (above), is re-tried and found not guilty of the murder of one of her pupils, a bright sixteen-year-old with his whole life ahead of him. The irony was nicely played as the drama showed just how Sally’s own life had been ripped away from her too: she’d lost her job, her friends, her home, her husband, and even, in a particularly cruel twist, their baby in a miscarriage brought on by the original trial.

Unsurprisingly left angry and scarred by her experience, she set about trying to claw back what she saw as rightly hers: blagging her way back into her old job, and trying to tempt her husband (Jamie Bamber) away from the new love in his life. I had a slight problem believing in his character; it seemed shocking that he’d accepted the case against his own wife with so little questioning and hooked up with one of her old school friends soon afterwards. It turned out there was a good reason for all that, though, which led to a nice satisfying explanation at the end.

Less satisfactory was the idea that a sixteen-year-old could successfully hide their sexuality in this age of social media, online ‘outings’, and the vast onrushing machine that is school gossip. Other than that, though, this was a well-written mystery with involving characters and a sense that it really could have happened to almost anyone. My only other complaint was occasionally clunky, daytime-soap-opera-level dialogue, which even a good cast of actors struggled with from time to time. But the added bonus of spectacular Lake District scenery more than made up for that.

TV crime drama – good and bad

There are two new crimes series on telly at the moment – Unforgotten on ITV, and From Darkness on BBC1.  Both, on the face of it, are quite similar.  Both feature the discovery of human bones as the ‘kicking off’ point for the drama.  Both then go on to uncover webs of dark deeds from years, even decades, ago.  And both feature a central female character.  But there the similarities end.

Given the BBC’s track record you might expect their offering to be the better of the two.  Sadly, it isn’t.  While Unforgotten is full of strong, warm, interesting characters and has an episodic narrative that is both taut and intriguing, From Darkness is dull, repetitive and flabby.  Unforgotten’s DCI Cassie Stuart may be obsessive about her latest cold case but she also comes across as a thoroughly good copper.  The same can’t be said about the characters in From Darkness.  I’m no expert, but the little I have gleaned from books, and from listening to speakers on the crime writing circuit, tells me that there is no way a retired officer with mental health problems would be given a frontline role in solving crime.  Yet that’s exactly what former constable Claire Church is allowed to do.  She takes part in formal police interviews; rushes into crime scenes, alone and without back-up; and generally gets in the way of a proper investigation.

I understand that this is entertainment and that some dramatic licence is allowed, but getting the basic facts as wrong as this just makes the whole thing seem silly.  It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is clunky, the action slow-to-non-existent (it took the whole of the first hour for Church’s former boss to persuade her to come back and work on the case) and it’s very formulaic.  The Guardian described it as having ‘plenty of work for the cliché police’ in their online review.

So, will I be watching the rest of either series?  A resounding yes to Unforgotten, to find out how so many apparently separate strands can be brought together into one over-arching storyline (there were already hints about this at the end of the first episode).  But an equally resounding no to From Darkness, which simply made me want to throw things at the television.  It’s amazing how two such similar shows can end up being so completely different.