With the return of critically-acclaimed TV drama Accused, written by Jimmy McGovern (Brookside; Cracker) about “ordinary people that find themselves in the dock”, season two opened with Tracie’s Story. Previously featuring top British actors such as Christopher Eccleston, Andy Serkis and Peter Capaldi, it was now the turn of Sean Bean and Stephen Graham (This is England; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) to impress us with their talent. And as so often, excellent acting was not always enough to alleviate the stereotypes.
After the usual opening scenes in court, the backstory is introduced: On a night out in Manchester, Tony (Stephen Graham) witnesses how mouthy cross-dresser Tracie (Sean Bean) is harassed by his drunken friends and chivalrously rescues her. As they share a taxi home, Tracie immediately takes a liking to him and decides to ask him in – despite his impertinent questions about the state of her genitals. Tony willingly follows. He learns that Tracie is the female persona of Simon, a sixth-form English teacher. Reserved, but down-to-earth, well-educated and well-dressed, Tracie describes him as ‘the most boring man on the planet’!
After the deed is done, Tracie guesses correctly ‘from years of experience’ that the new man in her bed is probably married. Instead of leaving it at that, Tony decides to spin her the lie that his beloved wife Karen (Rachel Leskovac – Holby City; Shameless; Coronation Street) is dead.
As months go by, Tracie increasingly feels that Tony is taking her for granted, turning up at her place several hours late and stone dunk. One day she spots Tony in town with Karen – very much alive, well and in love with her husband. Tracie decides to visit Karen’s beauty salon for a makeover to investigate and when Tony finds out, he is furious. In a last-ditch attempt for some honesty, Tracie decides to confront Tony with her male persona, which goes very badly. Karen finally finds out about her husband’s affair. Tony suddenly gets back in touch with Tracie, informing her that he has left Karen. He whisks her off on a mini-break to the Lake District where things come to a dramatic head at the edge of a cliff and eventually lead to the courtroom.
Tony, the behavioural bisexual – he starts off nice enough, but he can’t help the little lies and the possessiveness. Manipulation follows plenty of denial, latent anger and self-hate, along with a few casual transphobic slurs (‘you make no bleedin’ effort […] I don’t expect Sheryl Cole but you’ll have to do a lot better than Old King Cole if you want to be seen out in public with me’), culminating in him becoming completely unhinged. Tony personifies the troubled bisexual stereotype with more hangups than Jennifer Aniston’s wardrobe. That’s not to mention stringing along his possibly-deluded wife (Tracie: Do you have any children? – Karen: Not yet.). Would Tony even describe himself as bisexual? When Tracie decides to put him to the test, dressed as Simon and making casual man conversation at the bar, Tony replies: “Sorry mate, I’m straight. You’re wasting your time.”. Even Karen, initially all concerned and supportive during the makeover (“do you dress like this full-time?”, “you’ve got fabulous cheekbones!”), ends up laughing behind Tracie’s back and thus comes across as rather two-faced (“he asked for a Sheryl Cole, I think I managed a Myra Hindley”). Even the promising the Lake District turned out to be a big fat lie, when I distinctly recognised the film set as being the Peak District!
Tracie, or rather bi-gendered Simon – the transgender angle could have been explored more, because to the uninitiated it almost seemed like being gay and feeling female somehow follow each other. Tracie only says about her transition ‘it’s not always practical [to live full-time as a woman]’. For Sean Bean the story was about being honest, true to yourself. He describes his character Simon as a ‘complicated man’, but I think there is nothing that complicated about a character that knows exactly what they are and what they want. It has been alluded that casting someone so masculine-looking in the role of a transperson, complete with skin-complexion-defying peroxide blonde wig and disproportionate false breasts was deliberate and acting overly camp was just another stereotype. On the upside, an actor who often plays straight-talking no-nonsense roles, will shine when giving edgy repartees (“you do not wear these [French nails, that cost a fortune] to drag a dead body from a car.”).
Then we have Tracie and Tony – one really had to wonder what an sophisticated person like Tracie actually sees in the oafish Tony, who seems to bumble himself from booty-call to booty-call. For someone who doesn’t offer much apart from occasional kindness, bouts of jealousy and a high libido, this was perhaps a tad thin on the ground. And Tracie, desperate for a relationship does put up with a lot: When Tony finally realises he’s been talking to Tracie’s alter-ego, he unleashes a barrage of threats and insults: “[…] in my world, there’s no trannies, just pervs […] there’s no gays, only faggots!’. Simon replies bitterly, “Tracie thought you were different […] because you came back […] time and time again […], but she deluded herself […] because men like you never leave their wives.”. The climactic scene bordered on the melodramatic, nobody could have possibly been scared by this half-assed attempt of being threatened with a minuscule piece of rock!
One of the questions that need to be raised, is whether it’s even a good idea to include any complex LGBT theme in 60-minute emotionally-charged crime drama in the first place, when it’s easy to fall back into old stereotypes of the queer victim and/or the queer perpetrator.
To end on a positive note: Compared the other depressingly gloomy Accused episodes, this one contained some real gems. When Tracie is harassed by the group of men, she challenges one of them with, “I’ve upset you [and not them] because [you’re not] confident about [your] sexuality. They don’t have to kick off to prove they’re men.” There were plenty of funny moments (“Simon couldn’t [even] get a wank in a brothel.”) and snappy comebacks (Tracie: There is someone [special in my life]. – Karen: A lady? – Tracie: Do I look like a dyke!?). If you can stomach the ropey characterisation, you’re in for some outstanding performances from Bean, Graham and Leskovac – and some truly fantastic dialogue from Jimmy McGovern.
‘Accused – Tracie’s Story’ was shown on BBC One on 14 August 2012.