Itâs not every day that a television drama tackles profound themes such as loss and mental illness, and then still leaves time to take a couple of pops at Coldplay and feature a terrifying cameo from Alistair Campbell.
But thatâs exactly what this weekâs instalment of Accused (co-written by Cracker creator Jimmy McGovern) does.
The third episode of the second series is an hour-long journey into the paranoid mind of teenager Stephen Cartwright (Robert Sheehan). Itâs been a long and painful struggle for his terminally ill mother and her only relief in the final weeks of her life has been the drugs given to her by her palliative care nurse, Charlotte (Sheridan Smith).
However, Stephen isnât entirely convinced that sheâs been helping his mother at all, and suspects that she might be responsible for speeding up her demise.
Initially, his suspicions seem incorrect. After all, Charlotte seems nice and is even kind enough to offer the teenager some comforting words of encouragement when his mother finally passes away. But when Charlotte shacks up with his father (John Bishop â yes, the channel-rowing comedian) shortly after the funeral, he knows that something is wrong.
Grief and paranoia consume the seventeen-year-old, and despite frequent and gratuitous close ups of Charlotteâs cleavage, Stephen can scarcely cope sharing his space with the woman heâs certain killed his mother. And due to increasingly bad stomach pains, he believes that heâs being poisoned (although perhaps his tummy trauma has more to do with the fact that his family seem to eat nothing but meat and potatoes).
Itâs left up to viewers to determine whether or not Stephen has decent grounds to be worried. Charlotte is undeniably sinister, but weâre never given anything information that officially pins her as guilty, and Stephen does begin to act increasingly strange as the episode draws to a conclusion.
The seventeen-year-old is even starting to hear voices, most notably the spine-tingling voice of Alistair Campbell, who appears on the television to warn Stephen that Charlotte is a âcrafty cowâ?.
The episode is brilliantly suspenseful, blurring the lines between Stephenâs thoughts and reality. Nothing is black and white, which makes it difficult to root for any character wholeheartedly. Charlotte isnât a particularly likable character, but then neither is Stephen really. Heâs frequently rude, self-absorbed, insensitive, and unreliable, which makes it difficult to trust everything that he says.
Itâs a compelling instalment and one that gets better as it develops, most due to its fine cast. Sheehan, in particular, delivers a fantastic performance as a mixed up teen, and John Bishop is surprisingly adept as the grieving father.
One stand out scene sees him slam Stephen up against a wall in frustration as he confronts him about his dislike for Charlotte. I hope you can stomach flying spittle, because my god thereâs a lot of it in this scene. Admittedly, itâs disgusting, but like the episode on a whole, itâs great television.