Review: Unforgiven

Suranne Jones in Unforgiven

Unforgiven, the Unforgiven I’m talking about, is not a Western. It’s a 3 part drama from 2009 and the BBC starring Suranne Jones. I wandered into a conversation about it on Twitter with @gingesbecray and learned that not only does it star Suranne Jones – really all the recommendation a series needs – but it was written by Sally Wainwright. 

That makes Unforgiven required watching. But where? I finally found all 3 episodes on YouTube. Quick as that I watched all three, because you never know how long something will endure on YouTube.

Ruth Slater (Jones) has been in prison for either 15 or 17 years, I’m a bit murky on the number. She served time for killing two policemen when she was still a teen herself. Her younger sister, age 6 at the time, was adopted by a family who didn’t mention Ruth to her at all. Nor did they give her any of the letters Ruth wrote daily from prison.

Now Ruth is out of prison. She has a flat, a horrible job, and an interested guy (Will Mellor) from work who wants to get to know her better.

Ruth wants to find her sister. Her sister Katie, now called Lucy, is played by Emily Beecham. She purposely wrecks a car on the day Ruth gets out of prison. She was hoping to die in the wreck. Ruth sees the wreck from the prison transport on the day she’s released and doesn’t realize it’s her sister lying there bloody on the pavement.

Emily Beecham in Unforgiven
Lucy/Katie survived the wreck and her parents learn how unhappy she was

Circling around Ruth and her search for her sister are several characters who get involved one way or another. John (Peter Davison) and Izzie (Siobhan Finneran) – both lawyers, helpful, that – live in the house where Ruth grew up and where the murders took place. Ruth goes to look at the house. They see her, invite her in, and get involved in her story.

Michael (Douglas Hodge) and Rachel (Jemma Redgrave) are Lucy’s adoptive parents. They have another adopted child, Emily (Flora Spencer-Longhurst). Ruth pleads her case to be allowed to get to know Lucy with her adoptive family but is refused.

By the way, Jemma Redgrave is the most stunning woman. Don’t know why I’ve never known about this Redgrave (there are so many). Possibly it’s because she’s done her acting in England and hasn’t crossed the pond so often as her grandparents and aunts and cousins.

Emily reveals to Ruth where Lucy is. Ruth starts following her around her college campus. She sees that Lucy is well. She’s talented in music. But Lucy never smiles. She’s been going to therapy since the wreck and reveals that she has some memories of her early childhood, unlike what her parents claim.

Two brothers, Steve (Matthew McNulty) and Kieran (Jack Deam), were teens when their father was killed in the Slater farmhouse. They’ve nursed a fantasy ever since of getting Ruth in a room for ten minutes with a couple of baseball bats. Incidentally, both these brothers are screwing Steve’s wife Hannah (Faye McKeever). This fact seems unrelated to the progress of Ruth’s story until Steve does something crazy, frightening, and life-threatening and having Kieran and Hannah in the same room turns out to be important. Steve does repair work and gets called in to work on the heating unit in Ruth’s flat. He takes his baseball bat, but is sidetracked when a neighbor appears.

In the final episode of Unforgiven we learn what really happened in that farmhouse 15 (or was it 17) years ago. There’s a tense and exciting climax to the story that involves life and death – I won’t say whose life and whose death – and the sisters finally come face to face.

Unforgiven won nominations and an award back in 2009. It put writer Sally Wainwright and producers Karen Lewis and Nicola Shindler together well before Last Tango in Halifax or Happy Valley or Scott & Bailey. Also in this series were the Wainwright-adjacent actors George Costigan and David Prosho who both showed up again in Sally Wainwright penned series, as do Suranne Jones and Siobhan Finneran. If I suddenly am transmogrified into an English actor, I hope Sally Wainwright takes a liking to my work and puts me in all her stories. That would be actor nirvana. (Unless you’re Nina Sosanya, in which case – oh, shit.) If I happen to be unavailable, Jemma Redgrave would be a nice choice to show up again in a Wainwright drama.

If you didn’t happen to watch this series way back in the aughts when it first came out, rush over to YouTube and watch it now.

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