As this deeply moving and ingeniously plotted series comes to its end, we’re no nearer to certainty about the identity of Jimmy’s killer; but in a sense this has become less important, as each of the main suspects has crumbled under the burden of guilt, whether over Jimmy’s death or their own personal sins.
Lizzie is still missing, and Ray is distraught when he hears that she has jumped into the Thames; Father Rob has turned himself in over the stolen funds, and hopes to avoid a sentence if he repays the money, but the stress has caused his pregnant daughter to deliver prematurely.
Cross is now being pressured by his Turkish contacts over the murder of Fenwick; will he kill again to conceal his crime?
Eric Slater, having claimed to know who the murderer is, refuses to say more until he’s moved to a prison closer to home, but is he playing for time? When he finally talks, he accuses his wife Claire – very clever, thinks Sunny, Eric knows that his wife’s mental capacity is too diminished for her to be charged with anything.
Eric finally admits that he had been having relationships with men, including Jimmy, and claims that Claire murdered Jimmy in a jealous post-partum rage – and that, years later, the same happened again with the other victim, Nicholas. Do we really believe any of this? Eric’s performance is convincing enough to take anyone in – but let’s not forget that Tom Courtenay did play Billy Liar.
Claire’s questioned, but is clearly too confused to remember anything of what happened – she says she’s sorry if she hurt anyone, and Cassie admits to feeling sympathy for her.
Claire can’t be jailed, but she’s certainly punished, stuck in a squalid care home in the hands of her brutally unsympathetic son; Eric does time too, but he gets visits from the more understanding son.
Ray finds Lizzie, alive if not exactly kicking, in hospital, and they have a tearful reunion, and she’s accepted back into the lives of Curtis and his football team. Ray’s love transcends anything she might have done, and more to the point, she seems to have forgiven herself, symbolically washed clean by her dip in the Thames.
Cross’s son turns him in over the murder of Fenwick, and to everyone’s surprise, including that of the investigating coppers, he confesses.
Awaiting trial, he emerges as a surprisingly sympathetic character, admitting the burden of his guilt but explaining that he just wanted better things for his family. Even his flint-faced daughter Bella seems to soften at this, but Cross won’t live to see trial, as he hangs himself in his cell.
Father Bob’s secret child by Jo-Jo, Thea (Vanessa Hehir) contacts his family, and they reach an understanding of the decisions he made to be able to act as a father to both families; at the wedding of his daughter, he seems to have found inner peace.
Meanwhile Cassie gets home to find her father snogging a barmaid. So he’s moved on, then.
And finally, the character with most to gain from the investigation, Jimmy’s mother, at least gets the closure of being able to put flowers on his grave.
Just when we thought that there was very little new that could be done with police procedurals, Unforgotten has reminded us of three basic principles; that crime is rarely as straightforward as it seems, and is often banal; that policework can be conducted with insight, tolerance and sympathy, and doesn’t always have to involve car chases and fist-fights; and that characters don’t have to be one-dimensional, and can undergo convincing development even within the bounds of a few episodes.
More to the point, the series has raised an enormously topical question; whether the crimes of the distant past can justifiably be pursued, and whether the sins of youth should be punished in the adult; when the older personality is effectively a different person, is it right to inflict punishment on them? Is there even any point to it?
If Chris Lang can keep up this standard of writing for the second series which has now been announced, he’ll have made a major contribution to detective television, possibly of the significance of a Prime Suspect or Happy Valley.
Certainly we’d welcome seeing more of Nicola Walker’s Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s Sunny Khan, among the most even-tempered, self-controlled and well-balanced coppers ever to crack a case. These are just the kind of police officers you’d hope would deal with you on the worst day of your life – patient, compassionate, non-judgmental and with more than a dash of humility.
Chris Jenkins and Deborah Shrewsbury