14 January, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Unforgiven"


Andrew Billen, The Times

"In a very different way, Unforgiven, showing in ITV1's wildly uneven Monday night mini-series slot, was also extremely scary. This was the story of Ruth Slater, a teenage cop killer released after 15 years in jail to rebuild her life. The writer David Evans's piece was heavy with portents that her crime could not be so easily redeemed. In the house where the police were killed, a poltergeist plays games with a nice middle-class couple's furniture. Ruth's sister, long since adopted, is involved in a car accident having fallen into the company of drug dealers. The sons of one of the dead policemen get wind of Ruth's release and plot revenge.

That these stories initially appear unrelated only increased the unease as you watched. Suranne Jones, a bit panto in Corrie and ludicrous donning a posh accent in Harley Street, produced a grimly naturalistic performance as Ruth that would bring credit to a Ken Loach movie and contrasted with some of the rest of the deliberately comfy acting. Unforgiven is risky and original. It even hangs together. So far."

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Brian Viner, The Independent

"Here's a tip for any actress hoping to become a leading light of ITV drama: start by pulling or supping pints in the Rovers Return. Following Sarah Lancashire out of Weatherfield and into a spotlight all of her own is Suranne Jones, who was wonderful as sparky, spoilt Karen McDonald in Coronation Street and has done some splendid work since, but nothing better than Unforgiven, a three-part thriller in which she plays Ruth Slater, the daughter of a tenant farmer newly released from prison after serving 15 years for killing two policemen who were overseeing her family's eviction from their remote farmhouse. It is a stunning performance, the stuff of Bafta nominations if ever I saw it. Heck, on the back of it she might even get propelled into the movies, and bring a bit of North Country sense to the Golden Globes.

Speaking of the big screen, that by definition is where an actor's eyes loom largest. If you want to understand the difference between a decent film actor and a great one, watch the eyes, and how subtly they register a flicker of longing here, a flash of regret there. Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, they all start with the eyes and work outwards. On television, even in the age of the 52-inch screen, it is a harder trick to pull off. But in Unforgiven Jones does it. She acts principally with her eyes – wounded by her long incarceration, dead to the world of carefree fun – and the rest follows. The words "classy" and "ITV drama" have not always been neighbours these last few years, but Jones is one of the reasons why Unforgiven pulls them firmly together.

Another is the script, written by Sally Wainwright (another Coronation Street alumna). A thriller with revenge and redemption at its heart, seemingly comprising elements of the supernatural, could be a recipe for corn. But Wainwright (probably best known for At Home with the Braithwaites) is a writer of acute intelligence, and she has been well served here by whoever (perhaps it was she) made the casting decisions. Jones leads the line superbly, but Peter Davison, Douglas Hodge and Jemma Redgrave are the most illustrious names in a pitch-perfect supporting cast.

In a nutshell, the plot has Ruth coming out of prison desperate to make contact with her little sister, who was just six when she was sent down for murder, and ended up being adopted by the middle-class Belcombes (Hodge and Redgrave). Living in the house where Ruth committed the murders are another middle-class family, the Ingrams, and John Ingram (Davison), a lawyer, undertakes to help her find the sister. Meanwhile, the sons of one of the murdered policemen are hell-bent on destroying her life as they feel she destroyed theirs. And they know where she lives. There are moments when our credibility is, if not quite strained, then certainly challenged – after being released into the real world, would Ruth have kept the same name and returned to the area where she had earned such notoriety? – but on the whole it is an engrossing, believable story, cleverly and thrillingly told. Five stars all round, and six for Jones."

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Gareth McLean, The Guardian

"Compellingly suggesting that everyone is haunted by something, Sally Wainwright's story of a woman released from prison after 15 years is absolutely first-rate. Measured and mesmerising, the script is taut and true, and Unforgiven has a bleak beauty about it. David Evans' direction is top-notch, the drama is magnificently lit, and the music by Malcolm Lindsay is spare and unobtrusive - something that BBC drama might like to consider. Aided by a superior supporting cast, Suranne Jones gives an outstanding central performance, banishing any thought of the ghastly Harley Street, and if parts two and three keep up the high standard set here, Unforgiven will be the first best drama of 2009."

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Press Pack

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Related: "Wainwright to ‘reinvent’ BBC’s Robin Hood"


5 comments:

Tom Murphy said...

I missed the episode because my Sky+ box had a bit of a moment, but I'll catch up online.

I'm so pleased to see Suranne Jones get a bit of critical acclaim - especially after how badly she was used in the execrable Harley Street.

Robin Kelly said...

It's definitely worth watching (despite the slightly dodgy set-up) and I'm trusting that the other parts will be as good.

I do, however, think actors like Suranne are well aware when their star power is used to sell the execrable.

But, to be fair, actors would be doing a lot of 'resting' if they only did stuff from the likes of Sally Wainwright.

Lucy said...

I enjoyed this a lot - Suranne Jones is pretty good but that Dr. Who bloke never does bad stuff, so I knew it would be good. At Home With The Braithwaites was a scream.

Robin Kelly said...

The part was probably written for the Doctor Who bloke as he was in Braithwaites, I've just remembered.

I've also just remembered that Suranne Jones was in Dead Clever by Wainwright which was also good but had a dodgy bonkers ending. By 'remembered' I mean 'googled', obviously.

Anonymous said...

Suranne Jones is vastly underrated as an actress. Not sure if it's because she doesn't go for the roles herself or is passed over for them. Very good multi-layered characterisation, and in a wide range of personas. I have never seen her put in anything other than a superb and real performance in any role she has played.