It says much for the crafting of Unforgotten – Chris Lang’s writing and Andy Wilson’s direction – that we want to spend quality time with these characters. Over the past year there have been several series during which we itched to fast-forward through the kind of perfunctory and clunky ‘Basil Exposition moments’ that film critic Mark Kermode would rail at. Not here. As with the first series, we want to live every minute with these suspects – not for blood sport, but because we’d kind of like them as neighbours under normal circumstances (well, perhaps not Nurse Marion (Rosie Cavaliero).
The teenage son of Sara Mahmoud (Badria Timimi) slips downstairs to eavesdrop on an argument between his parents about her short stint as a young sex worker down in London. Hassan moves into the spare room with a broken heart, deepening the cracks within the family. The boy is rash enough to divulge her secret at school – which ends up with the boys fighting over a cruel sext gif concocted by classmates. The stakes, of course, are even higher for the Mahmouds because of their religious affiliations.
Poor DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) is also feeling awkward with Sara and clearly finds grilling her about her previous sexual services acutely embarrassing, as we have discovered that Walker was way past kinky in his tastes. Sunny is, after all, a lonely divorcé who is gamely plunging into a hi-tech dating world that is alien to him.
The general air of instability is also being detected by little adoptee-in-waiting Flora, who is obviously picking up on discord between Colin (Mark Bonnar) and Simon (Charlie Condou). She’s having nightmares that are probably not helped by hearing daddy and daddy arguing in hushed tones on the stairs about what exactly happened in the 1980s. Imagine: ‘Papa, what happened during your Big Bang?’ And forgetting to pick your putative daughter up from school is so not a good look for those finalising an adoption.
Nurse Marion too, has obviously spent time lingering on the landing waiting for husband Tony (Nigel Lindsay) to drop off – well, there’s no chance of his going to the land of nod now. Having struck up an unprofessional relationship with teenage patient Zoe, Marion has now dug herself even deeper into the hole by buying the chemo patient alcohol. Until now, her superior Nicola (the always-excellent Katherine Jakeways) has been amazingly tolerant of her bizarrely unethical behaviour, but after Zoe goes AWOL all hell is let loose.
Even unto the next generation – the offspring of our suspects are being made to pay for their parents’ sins.
The diffident but nurturing DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) offers grieving Jason (Will Brown) family therapy of sorts by suggesting that he could call her children “to compare notes on” growing up without fathers. The duty of care she displays to someone who admits his mental and emotional “wiring” is awry is compassionate enough to elicit an affinity that he probably can’t share with his mother Tessa (Lorraine Ashbourne), who seems to have been a highly secretive person at the best of times.
Cassie even forgives him when he hits her; his poisonous emotional and genetic inheritance reveals itself again when he lashes out in anger as his mother is questioned. So by the time she really presses Tessa to recount what happened in the days leading up to murdered husband David Walker’s disappearance, Cassie’s patience is wearing a bit thin.
Colin has a truly chequered past; the reason for and secrecy around his dismissal from his banking job is one that sounds all too symptomatic of the seismic changes in the City during the ’80s. However, Colin’s bonfire of the vanities wasn’t a hit-and-run, but something far more predatory. Tyler’s smack-addict girlfriend (whose custody case he is working on) is tightening the screws, having hit on the idea that Colin is a bewigged ATM. When she can’t get any cash out of him, she lifts his iPhone. Sadly for Simon and Colin, she doesn’t immediately sell it for drugs cash. Once she and Tyler read texts between the couple about the police investigation, their asking price escalates.
Tessa seems genuinely shocked by the lurid disclosures about Walker and could now finally be coming clean about her late husband after the stories of child sexual abuse; she tells Cassie and Sunny he did voluntary work with local children’s charities. You have to wonder how good a cop she actually is if she didn’t have some misgivings at the time about the highly manipulative man she married.
A second line of inquiry is opened up by the squad – the picture emerging of Walker is of a man who sinned as much or more than he was sinned against; were the suspects victims of childhood trauma arising from his actions – and exactly what did Walker’s past as a sex abuse victim in reform school lead him to do? Who among our quartet of suspects might have been drawn into the ‘gatherings’ of vulnerable children he organised at a house in Brentford in the late 80s?
Milliseconds of salacious memories flash by as the suspects retreat into their private hellscapes, powerless to prevent the shadows from falling onto loved ones. The plot takes another turn when DC Lingley tracks down Marion’s 1980s housemate, convicted IRA member Sinead Quinn, who drops another bombshell.
Cassie’s son Adam is home from uni, which should lift the spirits of Grand-dad Martin (Peter Egan) and hopefully divert him from pursuing his late wife’s lover.
We don’t know what the suspects are hiding, but a large question mark also hangs over our heroic leads. We’re getting certain glimpses into the home lives of Cassie and Sunny that pose more mysteries. We know next to nothing about her marital history – and why is Sunny so agitated when one of his daughters asks if they should stay with their mother while he is under work pressure? But this is a drama that is canny enough not to show all its cards before the stakes are at their highest.
Another thing that sets Unforgotten apart from other TV crime procedurals is the colour palette used. The drama is anchored in some picturesque places – Salisbury, Oxford, Brighton – which you’d expect to appear lush and chocolate-boxy. But London’s cityscape is often depicted as a grey concrete jungle superimposed with a nightmarish green haze (Marcella, we’re talking about you especially), which has become lazy shorthand for ‘here be criminality and the shifty liberal metropolitan elite’. Instead, the sunlit Shard building forms a benign backdrop over Borough Market in marked contrast to the Sturm und Drang that is Marion’s life. As workers and tourists bustle around her it highlights the fact that life is good until a sudden bump in the road sends you into off into unexpectedly dark places.
Cassie and Sunny’s ‘dark place’ is their car – well, they couldn’t very well share a bathroom like Cagney and Lacey. It is where they sort out their ideological prejudices – and David Walker’s grimy proclivities could drive a wedge between the most solid partners – this is the first time we have witnessed a divergence in opinion between them. For Sunny, “using prostitutes on an industrial level” is one thing, but what DC Jake Collier (Lewis Reeves) unearths about Walker is an outrage too far. Cassie argues for a little more perspective.
The performances, as ever, are impeccable, especially in the younger cohort. Dominique Drew impresses as Tessa’s wide-eyed stepdaughter Becca.
Now, we are hardened old cynics here and the last time a standout young actor brought real tears to our eye it was James Corden as a despairing teenager in Fat Friends over 10 years ago (whatever happened to him?). Here, relative newcomer Will Brown is offering up a similarly delicate sensitivity that really should lead him on to great things.
For all our news and reviews in Unforgotten, go here