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Sherwood, BBC One review - a traumatic journey through a painful past | reviews, news & interviews

Sherwood, BBC One review - a traumatic journey through a painful past

Sherwood, BBC One review - a traumatic journey through a painful past

James Graham's drama exposes wounds that never healed from the 1980s miners' strike

DCS Ian St Clair (David Morrissey) and DI Kevin Salisbury (Robert Glenister)

Renowned for an impressive body of work that includes This House, Quiz and Brexit: The Uncivil War, playwright and screenwriter James Graham has looked inwards and backwards for his new six-part series Sherwood.

Set in a former mining community in Nottinghamshire, based on the author’s own home town, Sherwood (BBC One) charts a story of increasing violence and bitterness, based on real-life incidents that took place in the miners’ strike back in 1984.

The historical background is evoked by newsreel footage from the Eighties of lines of police battling miners, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declaring that Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers was trying to substitute “the rule of the mob for the rule of law”. Nearly 40 years later, the town of Ashfield seems to be a quiet, faintly melancholy place, but below the surface old resentments and conflicted loyalties are stirring.

SherwoodWhile the younger generations may have been able to put the turbulent past behind them, not least Sarah Vincent (Joanne Froggatt, pictured left), who represents the phenomenon of the Red Wall Conservative with unapologetic vigour, some of the old veterans are having a harder time. Especially deeply scarred by the strike and the violent polarisation it caused is Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong), whose life seems to consist of little more than going down to the miners’ welfare club and drinking himself stupid.

He’s unable to stop himself from shouting “scab” at fellow-drinkers whom he considers not have held the line against the evil Tories and the thuggish cops back in the day (the Nottinghamshire miners are supposedly held in contempt even now by more militant comrades for continuing to work through the strike). It seems, though, that the locals generally take his outbursts with a pinch of salt, until the morning when he’s found lying dead in the street. He didn’t manage to make it back from the club because he’d been shot with an arrow fired from a crossbow.

This isn’t the only death we’ll encounter as Sherwood runs its course, though Graham is concerned not so much with depicting murder inquiries as knitting together a portrait of a community whose roots have been poisoned by its bitter and star-crossed past. It’s a murder mystery but also a cold case saga, as long-buried secrets are steadily exhumed by the progress of events in the present. Heading the police investigation into Jackson’s death is David Morrissey as DCS Ian St Clair (pronounced “Sinclair”, as he keeps reminding people). A miner's son himself, his outlook is coloured by still-vivid memories of how he was part of the local policing operation as a green young constable back in the days of the strike.SherwoodThe plot thickens in a variety of mysterious ways. Roaming the local woods and countryside, toting both a longbow and a crossbow, is Scott Rowley (Adam Hugill), the conflicted child of a broken home who was about to be jailed for benefit fraud, but has become a latterday outlaw in a Robin Hood costume instead. He has a hit-list of targets for his flying barbs, but we don’t yet know why or what links them all together. We know he learned his archery at the shooting range run by Mickey and Daphne Sparrow, but the Sparrows are also involved in a drugs racket with which the late Gary Jackson had somehow become entangled.

Sherwood creeps up on you with increasing addictiveness, as more avenues and possibilities begin to suggest themselves. The notion of “spy cops”, secretly embedded in Ashfield by the police and MI5 during the mining strike, is a fascinatingly sinister angle. The show is greatly boosted by an amazing cast of top British thesps, including Lesley Manville as Julie Jackson (pictured above with Alun Armstrong), Lorraine Ashbourne and Philip Jackson as the Sparrows, Kevin “Downton” Doyle as Fred Rowley, and Clare Holman as St Clair’s wife Helen. Pip Torrens and Lindsay Duncan are in there somewhere, and Stephen Tompkinson turns up as a Yorkshire miner. Robert Glenister delivers a thoughtful, troubled turn as DI Kevin Salisbury, a veteran of London’s Met now facing up to his own traumatic past in Ashfield. If you start watching, you won’t want to stop.

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