Sarah Lancashire, Joanna Scanlan, and Sidse Babett Knudsen star in The Accident, the final series in a trilogy by writer Jack Thorne. A lot of vocal Brits on Twitter hated it when it aired on Channel 4 in the UK. I found it gripping, complex and nuanced.
The first two series in the trilogy were National Treasure (2016) and Kiri (2018). Sarah Lancashire was also the lead actress in Kiri, although the character she played is not the same character in The Accident.
In The Accident, a small Welsh town is celebrating the future opening of a new industrial project that will mean jobs. While the adults are gathering at an official celebration, several teens enter the empty industrial building. There’s an explosion and they are all hurt. Then the building collapses completely and all of them are killed but one.
The one who survives is Leona Bevan (Jade Croot). She’s paralyzed, but alive. Her parents are the head of the town council Iwan (Mark Lewis Jones) and his wife Polly (Sarah Lancashire). Iwan Bevan helped bring the project to the town.
Polly’s friends Angela (Joanna Scanlan) and Greta (Eiry Thomas) lost children. Debbie Kethin (Genevieve Barr) lost her husband, the general contractor in charge of the building project. An entire town is grieving and looking for justice, looking for the responsible person.
The money people behind the project came from the city. Harriet Paulson (Sidse Babett Knudsen) lead that team. Her motive was to extract as much capital from the project as possible. Ain’t capitalism grand?
The series explores the subtle distinctions over who is to blame and why. There were two court trials over the course of the several years these 4 episodes cover. Was it the teens who went in illegally and lit a cigarette, sparking the gas? Was it the contractor who stored too many gas canisters close together in an unsafe way? Was it the company behind the project who cut costs by using substandard steel? Was it someone who helped cover up the fact that the steel was substandard? Or was it all of them?
Mixed in with the story about the accident were relationship dramas. Iwan and Polly Bevan had a peculiar marriage that involved physical abuse and power struggles. Harriet Paulson was having an affair with her much younger executive assistant Tim Das (Nabhaan Rizwan). Their relationship, too, was strange and abusive, but in a different way.
The nuances of these two dysfunctional relationships were key to solving the questions about responsibility for the accident. Abuse generates its own special karma.
The very human question of what you will do to protect yourself or the people you love is a factor in the story’s resolution.
Also important was the lifetime friendship between Polly and Angela. Their outcomes from the accident were very different. Their friendship was tested by Angela’s pursuit of justice when Polly was ready to let it go. Everyone in town but Polly joined in with a lawyer (Adrian Scarborough) to bring the case to trial.
This is why you hire an actor of the caliber of Sarah Lancashire in a part like this one. Because Polly knew. From the beginning, Polly knew.
She knew in the first emotional moments when she yelled at Harriet. She knew when she found Iwan staring at the architectural model and goaded him, called him a coward, forced him into exploding at her and dissolving into tears. She knew when she urged her friends to accept the foreman’s widow among the grieving women. She knew when she refused to give up the hard drive. She knew when she goaded and prodded at Iwan before his court appearance.
Polly knowing couldn’t be big. It couldn’t be obvious. The story had to walk the audience through pain and grief and guilt as it skipped through the months to its final conclusion. Toward justice.
Who You Gonna Trust?
To go back to the question of bad reviews, some of the complaints about the series were that the Welsh accents sounded off. Well, I don’t know what a Welsh accent should sound like, so the accents didn’t bother me.
Others complained about bad acting. I think that came from reviewing the series based on only the first episode. The reason characters were acting the way they did became apparent as the story played out and the relationships became clear. Nobody wanted to see our beloved Sarah Lancashire being hurt by a man. However, abused women learn to read their abusers. It’s a survival technique. Her understanding of him was a key to the story. I found the acting intentional and compelling.
Others said it was slow or uninteresting. I found it filled with tension.
If you are a fan of the stars of this series, give it a chance. Then come back and tell me whether you loved it or hated it in the comments.
Sandra Goldbacher directed every episode of The Accident. The trailer is in an earlier post. The series is available on Hulu.