Last night saw the start of ITV’s new three-part drama Unforgiven, starring Suranne Jones as Ruth Slater, a role that was specifically written for her by Sally Wainwright.
Suranne turned in an amazing performance, as did the rest of the cast which contained some of my favourite actors such as Peter Davison, Siobhan Finneran and Jack Deam who plays stuttering Marty in Shameless.
To recap last night’s episode, 30 year old Ruth Slater, who’d been in prison for fifteen years for the murder of two policemen, was released. She’d been in a low security prison for the previous two years, so the outside world wasn’t as alien as it might have been but she still found it all rather daunting.
On her release, Ruth had to report to her probation officer who assigned her a flat and a new job at the local meat factory in Halifax. Ruth explained to her probation officer that she has a younger sister, Katie, who she virtually brought up and loves deeply. Katie was taken into care when Ruth was arrested and despite Ruth’s continued efforts to get in touch, she’s heard nothing from Katie in fifteen years.
Elsewhere, the son of one of Ruth’s victims, Kieran – played by Jack Deam – is furious that his father’s killer has been released. He wants revenge and is angered that his brother Steve doesn’t seem as bothered about it as he is. Kieran though finds comfort in the arms of Steve’s wife Hannah as the two are involved in a passionate affair.
Meanwhile, in hospital, Michael and Rachel Belcombe are at the bedside of their eldest daughter, Lucy. She’s in a coma after a terrible car accident and there’s no telling whether she’ll come out of it. The police have figured out that Lucy was driving while drunk and that she had no license or insurance. The car she was driving belonged to her friend who also happens to be the local drug dealer. Lucy injured another driver too and could be in deep doodoo if he doesn’t recover.
Later, Ruth’s devastated when her probation officer reveals there’s a clause in her sister’s adoption which means Ruth’s not allowed to make contact with Katie. Ruth’s been waiting for fifteen years to be reunited with her sister and this news shatters her.
Feeling utterly defeated, Ruth goes back to her former family home, Upper Hanging Stones Farm. As she stands by the driveway, memories come flooding back; this is where the murders took place. The new occupants, John, played by Peter Davison, and Izzie, Siobhan Finneran, have been worrying about the house being haunted and so they’re freaked out when they see a lone figure watching them from where she stands in the garden.
John heads outside and invites Ruth into the house where she explains that she used to live there with her sister, Katie. Ruth finds herself opening up to John and Izzie who are sympathetic as Ruth reveals she hasn’t had any contact with her younger sister since she was taken into care. Katie was six when Ruth last saw her she tells them, and Social Services won’t help her make contact.
There’s something about Ruth that lawyer John likes and he agrees to help her, so the next day, he looks into the case and discovers that Katie was adopted by a couple called Michael and Rachel Belcombe who have two daughters, Emily and Lucy…
Meanwhile, Ruth is working hard at the factory and is starting to fall for Brad, who’s played by Will Mellor, and after a night out, they sleep together. Brad’s the first man Ruth’s ever slept with and it’s a scary but fabulous experience for her although she’s worried that, if he finds out, Brad will be put off by her criminal past.
Elsewhere, Steve’s working as a caretaker at the local authority flats and is horrified when he realises that one of the new tenants is Ruth Slater. His fury is barely contained and he calls Kieran to tell him he’s ready to talk about a plan for revenge. The two are now determined that Ruth Slater will pay for what she did to their father.
Part two next week sees Lucy waking from her coma as her parents decide to respond to John’s letter and meet with Ruth. Meanwhile, Lucy’s adopted sister Emily discovers the truth about Ruth and makes a momentous decision. Ruth’s relationship with Brad is going well, so well in fact, she decides to tell him about her secret past but her confession has dire consequences. Elsewhere, out for revenge, Steve decides how to get back at Ruth…
This was an outstanding first episode on all counts; the acting, the script and the story were all award worthy, even if the plot stretched the suspension of disbelief somewhat. For instance, would Ruth – a cop killer – really have been released with no identity change and would she have been allowed to return to the area where she committed the murders?
Mind you, given the state of the probation and prison service in this country, maybe it isn’t so unbelievable!
Despite this small niggle, I was enthralled from the get go. Suranne Jones was utterly convincing as the troubled Ruth and the rest of the cast were similarly believable in their roles.
It was great to see her back on our screens in a part that felt more comfortable to watch than that of her role in Harley Street. I never felt she fitted well into that particular slot; I couldn’t buy her upper class voice for one thing. In Unforgiven though, while I’m certainly not waiting for Steve to turn up, I feel that as Ruth, we’re seeing the ‘real’ Suranne, as we saw her as Karen in Corrie.
Peter Davison, Siobhan Finneran and Jack Deam did a fabulous job too in roles which, given their primarily comedic pasts, they all slipped into effortlessly. That said, Siobhan proved to me that she’s one of this country’s most versatile actors when she appeared in Apparitions hot on the heels of her role in Benidorm.
I can’t wait for next week’s episode – I just wish it wasn’t a whole week away!