Was anyone else blubbing like a girl by the end of last night’s The Street? Jimmy McGovern’s already powerful drama upped its game a tad last night I thought, as it incorporated domestic and local strife with the global crisis that is terrorism. It also addressed cultural and religious differences and how the army treats its injured soldiers. And as one might expect from a writer as gifted as he is, he did it with aplomb.
The story began with TA soldier Private Nick Calshaw calling home and getting the answering machine. As Nick spoke, there were panicked shouts in the background, a baby started to cry, and someone shouted, “Shoot her!” A massive explosion followed and then the line went dead.
Ellie, Nick’s sister, was the first one to hear it and she frantically called her parents, Alan and Kim, who rushed home, frantic with worry that they were listening to their son’s final moments. Nick’s fiancée Gemma, likewise ran out of the school where she was teaching on hearing the news and later, two Army officials called at the house to tell the Culshaw’s that there’d been an incident involving their son. He was alive but injured.
So, Nick travelled home on a train with fellow squaddie, Rob, while back on the street his family prepared a welcome-home party. When Nick emerged from the taxi outside his home, the full extent of his facial disfigurement was revealed to his shocked family.
Nick couldn’t face going through with the party so he sought sanctuary with girlfriend Gemma. However, despite being surrounded by those who love him, Nick became increasingly depressed and withdrawn and took to drinking in a big way.
As he became more and more isolated, the full story of how his injury occurred was revealed; he and several other soldiers had encountered a female suicide bomber who was about to detonate a bomb that was strapped to her. Nick had his rifle to hand and could have shot her before she detonated the bomb, but he couldn’t shoot a woman and a baby. Instead, he told his comrades that his rifle had jammed. Several men died and many more were injured when the woman killed herself and her child.
By the time we’d got that far into last night’s episode, I yet again marvelled at the casting; Siobhan Finneran in particular struck me as being perfect in her role as Nick’s struggling mother. The woman is a chameleon! She of course plays Janice in Benidorm and recently starred alongside Suranne Jones in Unforgiven, and in everything she’s in, comedy or serious drama, she excels and is utterly believable. She’s one of those increasingly rare actors who is totally unaffected by stereotyping.
Jonan Armstrong – of Robin Hood fame – marvellously portrayed the deeply troubled Nick and again, he proved that actors of a certain quality can seamlessly move from one genre to another.
The other thing that always amazes me about McGovern’s writing is how he can fit so much into a one hour time slot without it feeling forced or rushed. We went last night right from Nick’s initial traumatic injury, then through a period of what one assumes was PTSD – and the effect that had on Nick and his family – right through to his recovering from the worst of the psychological trauma.
He did so by first of all, hurling himself into the path of a taxi. The taxi was driven by Hassan, a Muslim, who frantically kept Nick alive at the site of the accident, and then prayed for his life at the hospital.
Among the closing scenes, we saw that Nick had finally accepted that Gemma loved him despite his injuries – he’d previously assumed she was only with him because she wasn’t ‘hard’ enough to dump him in light of his disfigurement – and then of them getting married, with Hassan as a guest at the wedding.
Nick made a very moving speech during which he thanked Hassan for saving his life and for helping him to recover in that he no longer harboured a hatred for, nor feared, Muslims.
This was and is a very tricky subject area and one which could have gone very wrong had it not been for the subtlety of the subtext as well as the fluency and eloquence that the writing and acting combined created.
If you missed this episode, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer here, and I’d highly recommend that you do.