TV review: Accused

The last in Jimmy McGovern's series of one-off crime-dramas was unremittingly grim, desolate – and compelling

The last film in the Accused (BBC1) series, Jimmy McGovern's collection of stand-alone dramas, wasn't quite stand-alone: it was connected by a narrative thread to the previous film. This one opened with prison officer Tina (Anna Maxwell Martin) escorting Stephen to his six-year stretch in a young offenders' institute for stabbing his stepmother. He explained he'd only been following orders.

"Oh right, someone told you to do it," she said. "Who?"

"Alastair Campbell."

That was the very last laugh on offer, and if you saw last week's unremittingly bleak instalment concerning the stabbing, you might not have found it all that funny. But this film was bleaker still: before you knew it, Stephen had hanged himself in his cell. The attempted resuscitation scene that followed was positively numbing. Meanwhile Stephen's father (a remarkable and straight-faced turn from comedian John Bishop) was left alone in the visiting area, unaware of what the officers already knew: his son was dead.

It got worse. The story centred on Tina's colleague Frank's failure to monitor the boy prior to his death, and Frank's insistence that Tina cover up for him. Tina is no hero; her determination to be honest was down to protecting her job – she has kids, and besides, she needed a new boiler. Frank, it was clear, would do a lot to save his own skin, and the drama was obviously not taking place in a moral sphere where people routinely got rewarded for doing the right thing.

Without wishing to give too much away in case you missed it and wish to see it, it all went steeply downhill from there, although not predictably. The disjointed structure made for a few surprises, and every unsparing detail was finely wrought, from the rote recitation of prison rules that serves as an induction ("Don't damage prison property, don't kick your door, don't shout out the window, don't push your panic button unless you're dying, don't seal your outgoing mail ..."), to the chilly atmosphere of Tina's freezing house, all seemingly designed to drive you to the depths of despair. The performances were all brilliant, but in particular Maxwell Martin managed to make Tina both vulnerable and implacable.

The film did finish on a final, optimistic note, but you had to get there first. By the end, your idea of what counted as a happy outcome had shifted pretty dramatically.

The Great British Bake Off (BBC2) may come to be seen as an explanatory artifact of our time, a time when so few people cooked that watching someone knock up a sponge was considered prime-time entertainment. This particular series also serves as a faithful record of our recent crappy summer. It's easy to forget now that it's sunny, but on GBBO the gloom still presses in from outside. Wind flaps the bake-off tent, contestants huddle by ovens in woolly jumpers and the judges pick apart meringues while it's audibly pelting down outside. Where better to be, than a kitchen full of cakes?

This was dessert week, although I'm not sure how that distinguishes it from other weeks, and I never miss an episode. They do seem to be upping the ante slightly: the torte challenge required them to make a cake with something other than flour, with options including ground almonds and potato flour. Sarah-Jane used crushed Amaretti biscuits instead. "It's the bravest thing I've ever done," she said. "But until this, getting here on the train by myself was the bravest thing I'd ever done." It's not something you'd hear on The Apprentice, is it?

In the technical challenge, the recipe for creme caramel simply said: "Make the custard." This was heartbreakingly vague; people didn't know whether to use whole eggs or yolks (it's whole), and their timings had to be predicated on instinct and guesswork. If you'd made creme caramel before, it was easy. If you hadn't, it was scrambled eggs.

GBBO is very popular in my house, where we value culinary knowledge far above actual cooking. I didn't tell my family I was obliged to watch last night's instalment early for professional reasons, and by the time you've read this I will have shamelessly used this advantage to further the pretence of my expertise. "It's whole eggs, obviously," I will no doubt have said, tutting a little. "Chestnut flour – very difficult to work with." I haven't even done it yet, and I'm ashamed of myself.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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