Review: Ackley Bridge, season 2

Poppy Lee Friar and Amy-Leigh Hickman in Ackley Bridge

Ackley Bridge, season 2, with its big cast and 12 episodes was even more interesting than season 1. The UK’s Channel 4 must agree with me because they’ve commissioned a third season of 8 episodes for 2019. This British drama about an integrated school filled with both white and Asian kids and teachers is a great setting for multiple storylines.

There are some spoilers ahead. Just a few.

The majority of the characters from season 1 returned. There are a couple of exceptions. Let’s deal with the exceptions first.

The female science teacher that Nasreen (Amy-Leigh Hickman) fell in love with is replaced by a male teacher, Rashid Hyatt (Tony Jayawardena). This was a good decision in a couple of ways. First, it sidestepped the awkward issue of an teacher and a student in a relationship.

Sunetra Sarker in Ackley Bridge
To date or not to date, that is the question for Kaneez.

The second reason is Rashid Hyatt became a love interest for Nasreen’s mom Kaneez (Sunetra Sarker). They like to keep the science teachers in the family!

Megan Parkinson and Amy-Leigh Hickman in Ackley Bridge
You just kissed a Muslim, you know.

Other new characters joined the cast. The gender non-conforming Sam (Megan Parkinson) appeared midway through the season and became Nasreen’s first girlfriend. The fact that Sam was from a racist family and thought nothing of participating in racist marches against the Muslim population gave the two of them lots of fodder for conversation and growth. Sam was so obviously out that Nasreen had to deal with being out, too.

The explosive news that Nasreen’s father had another family led to the introduction of Nasreen’s half brother Aaron (Adam Fielding). There was a lot of emotion around his discovery. Before long Aaron was dating Missy (Poppy Lee Friar). He spent all his time at Missy’s house and slowly integrated himself into the family at Nasreen’s.

The Cast Came Back

Missy and Nasreen were still the center of everything in both in school and out of school storylines. But with 12 episodes, many characters got a moment in the spotlight.

Liz White and Arsher Ali in Ackley Bridge
Is it time for you to go home to your wife?

Among the faculty, Emma Keane (Liz White) and Samir (Arsher Ali) were still in love. He married a Pakistani woman but kept coming round to see Emma. This romance ended tragically, because Samir was trying to help the troubled student Jordan (Samuel Bottomley).

Samuel Bottomley in Ackley Bridge
Trouble is Jordan’s speciality

Jordan caused trouble for everyone. His family became the enemy, except for his brother Cory (Sam Retford) who stood by him. In spite of his troubled family life, Jordan had talent. The teachers at Ackley Bridge wanted to make sure he was able to use it.

Cory had his own relationship issues going. He used sex to get food from women to feed his family. Cory was also somewhat sexually interested in his best friend Nav (Gurjeet Singh). But not interested enough for what Nav wanted.

Gurjeet Singh and Amy-Leigh Hickman in Ackley Bridge
Why, yes, gaydar brought us together as best buddies

Nav was hopelessly in love with Cory, a doomed romance if there ever was one. Nav and Nasreen formed an informal gay support group with just the two of them and helped each other cope.

Although the words gay and lesbian were thrown around a lot in this series, the word bisexual never entered the discussion regarding Cory. It should have. They really missed an opportunity to explore bisexuality.

Nazmeen Kauser in Ackley Bridge
Put me in a huge halo brace and call the sympathetic girls!

Cory’s aggression on the playing field put Razia (Nazmeen Kauser) in the hospital. Oddly, the coach Steve (Paul Nicholls) was blamed for the incident. Steve and Head Teacher Mandy Carter (Jo Joyner) had marriage issues throughout the season. Steve’s problems over Razia’s injury didn’t help them.

Jo Joyner in Ackley Bridge
Being Head Teacher isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Mandy remained good friends with the English teacher Emma. The two of them needed each other through the many ups and downs of life in Ackley Bridge. Mandy also had serious issues with her parents.

Jo Joyner and Lorraine Cheshire in Ackley Bridge
Which one of these women knows EVERYTHING that’s happening?

Among the adults, the nosy administrative assistant Lorraine (Lorraine Cheshire) was still around. Sadiq (Adil Ray) was still there as school sponsor. The P.E. teacher Will (Tom Varey) was there, and in love with Emma.

Emma’s daughter Chloe (Fern Deacon) had her own storyline this season. and Missy’s younger sister Hayley (Cody Ryan) did as well. The drama at Missy’s house around her addict mother and Hayley’s status with social services was ongoing.

Themes

Racism is a constant theme in Ackley Bridge. The setup was meant for it, and they used the platform well. It touched everything about the characters interactions, the performance of the school, the school’s ability to raise money to continue as integrated, and the potential hopes and dreams of the characters.

Living in Ackley Bridge is not an easy thing. The racial divide is obvious. The income disparity is obvious. The fact that Ackley Bridge College doesn’t explode from the tension says a lot about how the school is run and the people running it.

Season 1 was timely in terms of racism, and season 2 is even more so. With white supremacy on the rise all over the globe, Ackley Bridge is more relevant than ever.

Family relationships are another constant running thread and theme in Ackley Bridge: Nasreen and her family, Missy and her family, Cory and Jordan and their family. Sadiq, his son Razia, his daughter Alya (Maariah Hussain) with their family dynamics brought new aspects to family relationships. Sam’s relationship with her racist grandfather was part of it. Mandy’s marriage and parents fit into it. Emma’s struggles with Chloe. No matter who the character is, their family issues and problems were a huge part of what propelled the story.

Friendship and loyalty among friends is a theme. Nasreen and Missy, Mandy and Emma, Nasreen and Nav, Cory and Nav and other friendships help keep people grounded and able to cope. There were a couple of pregnancies and a death in season 2. Friends were absolutely essential to dealing with those parts of the story. Kids were thrown out of their homes or rejected by their parents. Friends were the lifeline.

Love and sex are another theme. Much of the sex happens off camera, which is good, because I imagine this series attracts a very young audience. We know it happened but we don’t see it. Not all the relationships are heterosexual, which is good. Some of the relationships are cross-cultural, which is good. Generally, the love story lines are there to help people learn and grow.

Overall

Overall, I think this is an outstanding series. You can see it in the US on Acorn TV and possibly YouTube.

The directing talent included both men and women. The cinematography was beautiful. Scenes were lit perfectly and shot brilliantly.

There were many, many writers but they managed to keep it coherent from one episode/writer to the next. I think this is because the three series creaters worked on every episode. Other writers came aboard for shorter times. The creators of the series were Malcolm Campbell, Kevin Erlis, and Ayub Khan-Din. The story details were never lost and it flowed flawlessly. Some of the writers have Asian names, which I think is an important part of the good writing on this series. Both white and Asian characters were well written.

This series is in English, but it’s English as spoken in Yorkshire. I suggest you watch it with close captions turned on. You’ll get more out of it.

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