Any British actor you talk to will usually admit that while TV is great in the UK, they often gaze across the pond in envy as their counterparts tuck into twenty part series. But when drama is done this well, an hour is really all that’s needed.
All the pre-hype had been about the shots of a tarted-up Sean Bean dressed in drag. But anyone who showed up to see the spectacle will probably have ended up staying for the whole ride, as the Hollywood star delivered a riveting performance which captivates from the first moment to the last.
Oft-overlooked storyteller Jimmy McGovern (Cracker, The Lakes, Hillsborough) should also take a bow. Once again he effortlessly illustrates how vulnerable humans can be and the irresistible pull of denying hard truths. He’s obviously well-respected within the industry because Bean and his co-star Stephen Graham are big names on either side of the pond and both jumped at the chance to be involved.
Bean plays Simon, a middle-aged English teacher who likes stepping out in high heels of an evening. In the opening exchanges, his alter ego Tracie bumps into Tony (Graham) after an unpleasant exchange at a bar, and decides to spend the evening with him/her. Their relationship develops, but when Simon discovers that Tony has been lying all along, things take a tragic twist and the pair of them end up in the middle of the Lake District with Tony’s wife’s body in the boot.
We see the story through the eyes of Bean’s lonely, yet admirable character, and feel every jolt of excitement and stomach-churning heart-break as Tracey/Simon dare to dream that they might have found love at last. The scene in which he tracks Tony to the Shopping Centre is particularly rich. The way the audio fades until it sounds like music in someone else’s headphones and Tony wanders past Simon without recognising him was heart-rending, telling the story of Simon’s painful past and dashed future in less than 60 seconds.
For his part, Bean really brought an earnest poignancy to the whole thing. You could almost feel that glimmer of hope being snatched away from him.
Yet the beauty of the whole episode is the contrast drawn between Tony, a spineless, dishonest character who appears respectable and Tracie, an ostracised freak-show who acts with integrity throughout. Apart from being a commentary on how easily anyone can slip into trouble, it’s a great allegory for modern attitudes of respectability and judgement. We so get symbolism. More please..