On Jimmy McGovern: Sociologist manque

Jimmy McGovern

comes from Liverpool , one of nine children. From a very poor family, he taught in a secondary school for a while, and knows very well  the complexities of the lives of ordinary everyday people trapped in ordinary everyday, but challenging, circumstances. And this is what he researches, writes about and produces. And he does it, in my view, so very, very well. Everything he touches suggests how an engaged humanistic sociology could look like (but usually doesn’t!).

He has been writing since the early 1990’s. The crime series Cracker and the soap The Lake were amongst his earliest pieces. But he rose to critical celebrity status with his production  of Hillsborough based on the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in 1989. This astonishing drama dared to scrutinise police and media responses – and is humanistic to its deep core. Very controversial, its key story lines were not vindicated for over twenty years – till an official report found the police behaviour at the football ground seriously wanting.


After this came the series  of dramas known as The Street. (Details of episodes of The Street can be found on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Street_(TV_series)  It is also available on video.Amongst the themes it addressed topics problems of asylums seekers, unhappy marriages, drug use and unemployment, suicide and retirement, breast cancer,  a single mum working at a strip joint, a soldier coming home from  Afghanistan, racial hatred. Cheery stuff, then.


His most recent series, Accused, first aired on BBC1 TV in July 2010 and a second series in August 2012.

There is a very useful guide t0 each episode to be found on Wikipedia; the story outlines are below

They all raise complexity and ambiguity in social thinking and social analysis; and show the challenge to so much sociology which flattens and deadens social life.

Tracie’s Story

Simon (Sean Bean) is a bored English teacher who teaches uninterested teenage students by day, and becomes Tracie, a transvestite, by night. On one particular night out he meets Tony (Stephen Graham) at a nightclub, culminating in the pair having sex at Tracie’s home. The pair strike up a casual relationship, with Tony confessing that his wife has died and he is a widower. It is revealed, however, that Tony’s wife (Rachel Leskovac) is still alive when Simon walks past Tony in town and follows him. Simon tracks down Tony’s wife’s place of work and receives a makeover from her, and later on Tony’s wife confronts Tony about messages from Tracie on his phone. In a brutal attack, Tony kills his wife because “he couldn’t hurt her by leaving”. He and Tracie (unaware of the murder) travel to the Lake District and Tony confesses all. Tracie runs away, with Tony in pursuit, but Tony can’t bring himself to kill her. Tracie is charged with murder but is found not guilty, and Tony is imprisoned for murder.

Mo’s Story

Mo Murray (Anne-Marie Duff) is a single mother working as a hairdresser, who refuses to close her shop in order to respect a recently deceased gang member. The gang leader, Martin Cormack (Joe Dempsie), threatens repercussions, leading to the teenage son of her best friend being shot dead in broad daylight. After supporting her friend Sue (Olivia Colman) in joining a women against guns campaign, Mo learns that the killer is her own teenage son Jake (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who was ordered to do it by the gang in order to avoid being the victim himself. Mo reluctantly helps to hide the gun and becomes distant towards Sue, before armed police raid the salon, finding the gun. Mo and her assisting mother (Ruth Sheen) are given suspended sentences for perverting the course of justice, while Jake is sentenced to a minimum of 12 years for murder. Mo is visited by a furious Sue, who deplores her claims in court of also having lost a son that day, stating that her own pain is far worse and unimaginabl

Stephen’s Story

Stephen Cartwright (Robert Sheehan) is a 17 year-old driven mad and to attempt murder following the death of his mother. After the death of Stephen’s mother, his father, Peter (John Bishop), begins a new relationship with his mother’s former nurse, Charlotte (Sheridan Smith) which deeply unsettles Stephen. Stephen’s lack of ability to cope leads to mental illness and the belief that the nurse is dangerous and attempting to poison him and purposefully kill the family dog. Stephen’s madness eventually leads to him destroying all ties with family and friends, increasing hallucinations and destructive behaviour. Stephen eventually attempts to kill Charlotte in what he, in his distressed state, claimed to be “self defence” of his remaining family (and in particular his brother). Stephen is found guilty of attempted murder, and sentenced to 6 years in juvenile detention centre. Sometime later, Charlotte visits him and implies that she had been trying to poison him and his family all along, although it is not clear whether this meeting is real or just another one of Stephen’s paranoid hallucinations.

Tina’s Story

Tina (Anna Maxwell Martin) is a prison officer in charge of young offender inmates, including Stephen Cartwright (Robert Sheehan). It doesn’t take long for Tina to notice Stephen is ill, and she remarks to her colleague Frank (Ewen Bremner) to put him in a cell with someone else to keep an eye on him. Frank ignores these warnings and Stephen is later found dead, as result of hanging himself. Frank and Tina both deny to the governor (and later Stephen’s dad Peter (John Bishop)) that they thought Stephen was in any danger. Tina cannot handle the guilt, and her husband encourages her to tell the truth. Tina tells Frank she will reveal all and Frank, annoyed, allows her to be raped by an inmate. Tina finally tells the governor everything, and in her final scene is transporting Jake (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who faces 12 years in prison. Tina, still feeling guilty for Stephen’s death, frees him in the police van, telling him he will die in prison. She is apprehended for aiding the escape of a convict and sentenced to one year in prison with a suspended sentence of one year. Stephen’s dad Peter thanks her for her help with Stephen after realising she tried to save his life by resuscitating him, and Tina leaves her job in the prison and is a free woman with her family

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accused_(TV_series)

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