Writer Jack Thorne has been churning out immensely watchable British dramas for a while now. In addition to The Accident, his recent successes include the crime thriller The Last Panthers, with Samatha Morton and the late John Hurt, as well as two seasons of National Treasure (no, not the Nicolas Cage franchise), the first installment of which proceeded the #MeToo movement with its depiction of a beloved comedy icon being accused of horrible crimes of sexual misconduct. Most recently, though, viewers will likely have come across Thorne’s writing on the HBO and BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which has so far delivered the high-fantasy epic that its big budget feature film predecessor could not.
So, while Thorne dabbles in more high-profile genre work, now is a good time to check out the latest intimate and emotionally fraught drama from the prolific writer. The Accident that reunites him with Sarah Lanchashire, star of Thorne’s National Treasure: Kiri, as well as the superb cop drama Happy Valley (and others too numerous to list here), and once again tells a story where trouble is roiling underneath the seemingly placid surface.
Though its title could have been workshopped a bit more, it can’t be argued The Accident doesn’t live up that unimaginative name. The series tells the story of a Welsh community that’s been hard hit by economic forces and is hoping to see its fortunes changed with a massive construction project that aims to reinvigorate the local economy and bring jobs back to the small town. Thorne establishes what appears to be a quaint, working-class community that runs largely on civic pride, as demonstrated with a fun-run/walk orchestrated by town leader Ian Bevan (Mark Lewis Jones), husband of Polly Bevan (Lancashire), a local hairdresser/busybody who knows everyone’s business because that’s the way the town works.
A show called The Accident wouldn’t be very good if it didn’t get to its vague namesake as quickly as possible, and Thorne doesn’t disappoint. The premiere is largely a portentous affair, as many of the town’s adults and parents remain blissfully unaware their teens, led in part by Iwan and Polly’s rebellious daughter Leona (Jade Croot), are trespassing at the construction site, decorating its unfinished walls with graffiti. The overwhelming that something awful is about to happen comes to fruition soon enough, when an explosion rocks the site and the town, trapping the teens inside. It’s not long before the entire town is gathered around the site which gives them a front row seat to witness the entire structure collapse just as rescue efforts get under way.
Though Leona barely survives, the loss of life is staggering, both for the trespassing teens and for the rescuers who entered the building after the initial explosion. To make matters worse, Harriet Paulsen (Sidse Babbett Knudsen), an executive in charge of the construction project, arrives just as the project crumbles, leading to an on air confrontation between her and Polly that gains national attention and the interest of Philip Walters (Adrian Scarsborough), a potentially shady lawyer who intends to help the Bevans litigate an enormous claim agains the construction firm, whose lax safety protocols played a role in the devastating accident.
What seems like a fairly straightforward exercise in tragedy and grief is made more complex and compelling as The Accident begins to peek into the personal lives of the community’s residents, and finds that not all is as it seems. That’s particularly true of the Bevans who are hiding a horrific secret that effectively distorts the way the audience sees them, and turns the story into something much more than recounting a moment of misery. But Thorne is still interested in the ways otherwise “regular” people process tragedy, and how it changes them and their circumstances. Case in point, the series spends considerable time with Angela Griffiths (Joana Scanlan), whose daughter died in the collapse, and Debbie Kethin (Genevieve Barr) a hearing impaired woman whose husband supervised the site and also perished in the accident.
At a relatively short four hours, The Accident could easily be binged in a single sitting, but its content and tone is such that viewers might want to split it up into more manageable pieces. That also helps mitigate certain issues pertaining to its pacing, as although it is only four hours, The Accident can feel as though it’s taking twice that long to say what it’s trying to say. To that end, the series delivers a surprisingly ambiguous story that investigates the way in which money and power work to subvert corporate culpability and place the blame squarely on the heads of those who died in the blast. Thorne approaches the story from a fascinating angle, revealing early on that both parties are at least partially to responsible for what transpired, then shifting his focus to the ways in which a tragedy and the need to place blame eventually tears a small, grieving community apart.
The Accident will stream on Hulu beginning Friday, November 22.