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TV review: Sherwood, and The Real Derry

24 June 2022

BBC/House Productions/Matt Squire

Sarah Vincent (Joanne Froggatt) in Sherwood (BBC1, Monday and Tuesday of last week)

Sarah Vincent (Joanne Froggatt) in Sherwood (BBC1, Monday and Tuesday of last week)

CLOSE-KNIT yet divided, traumatised but proud: these were the hallmarks of the fictional and real communities portrayed on television this week. In Sherwood (BBC1, Monday and Tuesday of last week), Ashfield-born James Graham transposed two 2004 murders in Nottinghamshire’s former mining communities to the present day.

Sherwood has the pace of American dramas, with multiple storylines and characters, but its dialogue, look, and feel are rooted in small-town England. The opening credits pan over Sherwood Forest’s sunlit treetops, while Arthur Scargill’s voice from 1984 asks miners whether they are “going to stay on your knees” or fight the butchery of their industry. Then, half-silhouetted figures listen in on headphones, type, and redact reports, before sealing them in file boxes labelled “Scotland Yard”.

Sherwood’s first two episodes are bookended with Sarah (Joanne Froggatt), speaking her mind. At the start, she is “flyering” a terraced street on her wedding day, asking for support as a Conservative councillor. In her closing scene, she dispenses family-dynamics wisdom to her new father-in-law, Andy (Adeel Akhtar): “Neel’s no longer just your son, he’s also my husband.”

A retired Nation Union of Mineworkers activist, Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong), also voices his opinion on neighbours who worked through the strike, firing off “scab” every few minutes. When a neighbour remonstrates “But that was 40 years ago,” Gary is impervious. In Graham’s intricately layered world, the past is always present.

DCI Ian St Clair (David Morrissey) is the local boy made good, charged with holding all these narratives together. Morrissey’s lines were the most exposition-heavy, but he pulled them off in the guise of filling in younger officers on Nottinghamshire’s historic breakaway Union of Democratic Miners and mass-pickets policing. A fluorescent cross illuminated his briefing, as a church has become Gary’s crossbow-murder incident room. Previously, the DCI had complimented the bride and groom, Sarah and Neel, on their “lovely service”, when neither he nor the viewer had been beyond the churchyard. While the past and politics are deftly woven into Sherwood, religion is barely there.

The Real Derry’s (Channel 4, Thursday of last week) blend of history and popular culture, but little religion, had much in common with Sherwood. The Derry-born actor Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, who plays Michelle in the Derry Girls series, set in the 1990s, explored her home town. Although 1972 Bloody Sunday footage of a priest waving a tattered handkerchief to carry the wounded past paratroopers remained shocking, present-day young women who articulated the challenges of mental health and education shared by the Nationalist and Unionist communities felt full of hope. Agreeing shared solutions must surely be the next step.

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