After two seasons of BBC One’s brilliant The A Word, nobody could argue that Lee Ingleby hasn’t been given a chance to show off his dramatic range. It’s a bonus treat, then, to see him get an entire ITV box set to impress once again. Innocent sees him play David Collins, a man who went to jail for seven years for the murder of his wife, Tara, despite protesting he didn’t do it. Finally acquitted, he returns to his home town, determined to bring the actual killer to justice – once he’s worked out who that is.
So far, so familiar, as the four-parter sets the stage for a wrongly accused man to clear his name and play amateur detective. But writers Chris Lang and Matt Arlidge allow the mystery of who killed Tara to linger in the background, instead focusing on the ensuing family drama in its aftermath – and that decision makes Innocent a moving must-see that carries far more impact than a standard crime thriller.
Life without David has, of course, continued without a second thought of him, with his kids – Jack (Fionn O’Shea) and Rosie (Eloise Webb) – now looked after by Rob Moffat (Adrian Rawlins) and his wife, Alice (Hermione Norris). The locals look at him with equal parts disgust and distrust, as he sits in the corner of the pub, alone. His only support comes from his brother, Phil (an excellent Daniel Ryan), who puts a roof over David’s head and has sacrificed his career to campaign for his brother’s sentence to be overturned.
The show succeeds by delving into the complexities and conflicts that arise from such a tragic situation, from the solidarity of brotherly love to the awkward longing to reconnect with one’s parents. These family ties drive the plot forward: it’s only natural that Rob, who can tie a butterfly knot (a crucial link to the crime scene), should be top of David’s list of possible culprits, alongside Alice, who is possessive over David’s kids, after they’ve raised them as their own. Both Norris and Rawlins play their roles with an ambiguity that simultaneously establishes them as rounded, real humans and as suspicious, secretive enemies. Even Daniel Ryan’s seemingly perfect brother has a darker side, much like David himself, whose rage bursts out from his calm surface when he crosses paths with those who have persecuted him the most.
All the while, DI Hudson (a charming Angel Coulby) diligently combs through the evidence and re-evaluates how the case was initially investigated – much to the displeasure of her patronising boss, DI Beech (Four Lions’ Nigel Lindsay, fresh from stealing scenes in Netflix’s Safe). But while there’s fun in seeing her expose the flaws in the justice system, the real meat here comes from David’s gradual reunion with his children, which sees them get to know each other again, before acknowledging the grief that they were never able to share together before. Eloise Webb is excellent as Rosie, scared of her father despite remembering his scent, and Fionn O’Shea, who impressed in Netflix’s The Siege of Jadotville), is remarkable as Jack, who readily accepts his dad’s Facebook friend request and slowly bonds with David even without many words.
Ingleby, throughout, is mesmerising, disturbing, surprising and heartbreakingly vulnerable, delivering a turn that has you completely hooked. Even when the final act of the story descends into a vaguely predictable conclusion, the plot’s almost irrelevant compared to the powerful feelings on display, which moves from rejection and retribution to recognition and reconciliation. With only four hours to watch, and no second season waiting in the wings, the result is a swift, easy box set, but one that carries a big emotional punch.
Innocent is available on ITV Hub until 16th January 2019.