Public Enemies Review: Life After Life?

PUBLIC ENEMIES: Wednesday 4th January, BBC1, 9pm

*Due to a late schedule change, this episode of Public Enemies was not broadcast on January 3 as originally scheduled. It will instead be broadcast on January 4. Please be aware of spoilers below*

A lot of television dramas involving crime tend to fall in line with the Law and Order school of plot; big time cops bringing the bad boys to justice and all that fun-time malarkey. That’s what makes the premise of Public Enemies a refreshing change. It focuses on the other side of the spectrum: criminals that have served their time in prison and the parole officers whose job it is to supervise them upon release.

So what happens when a convicted murderer attempts to reintegrate into society?

This new three-part drama attempts to ask that very question. It stars Anna Friel (recently seen in ITV drama Without You, but forget that, this BBC offering looks miles better…) and Daniel Mays (a recognisable face you might have seen before in Outcasts or Made in Dagenham). Friel plays Paula Radmore, a parole officer returning to the job after being suspended when a criminal murders someone after she paroled them. Mays plays Eddie Mottram, a man who has spent the past ten years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend at the age of nineteen, and whose case has been assigned to the now meticulous Paula.

As I said, the premise in itself is far more interesting that the archetypal standard. The trouble with the happy-ever-after ‘send the bad man to prison and that’ll be the end of it’ plot is that we all know it isn’t the end. Life doesn’t mean life, and so Public Enemies shrewdly takes a look at what happens to the criminal ten years after the credits roll.

After passing all of his risk assessments, Eddie is released and returns ‘home’ to the place where he first committed the crime. He is assigned to a dingy hostel filled with people in a similar predicament and begins a life filled with suspicious looks and weekly appointments. If he fails to turn up or if his behaviour becomes in any way ‘dangerous’, it’ll be game over and he will be recalled to prison before he can even savour his first pint.

This first episode successfully sets up the characterisation; it follows Paula as she quaffs wine and is tormented by the consequences of her previous mistake, and Eddie as he marvels at the joy that is the high street. (Apparently after ten years even the sight of a Poundland can seem like the Taj Mahal.) The beauty of the set-up is that the characters – in particular Eddie – provoke empathy. Despite the fact that he holds a conviction for murder and has clearly left a trail of anguish in his wake, the viewer might – in spite of better judgement – find themselves empathising with the man. Dare I say it, even liking him? “But he’s a murderer!” I hear you shout. Quite, but even murderers can emanate a certain charm…

Public Enemies is a three-parter so evidently there’s more to the story. Nonetheless this opener makes for an intriguing introduction, and in true cliff-hanger style the end will guarantee you tune into the second. This is promising stuff… and it sure beats the repetition of Law and Order UK any day.