Sarah Lancashire is a big deal in Britain, so big in fact that the debut of The Accident on Britain’s Channel 4 was the highest-rated debut ever for an original drama on the channel, besting another Sarah Lancashire series, Kiri. (Lancashire is also well known for another British series, Happy Valley, which was picked up by Netflix a few years back).
With high ratings, however, comes great expectations, and from what I understand, all those British viewers tuning in were very displeased with the ending of Lancashire’s The Accident, which aired right before the four-episode series was released in its entirety in America on Hulu.
I can understand why. If you’re going to create an original series that is not based on a true story, as Jack Thorne (HBO’s woeful His Dark Materials) has done here, why create a series that basically combines grief and bureaucracy? The Accident starts off so strong and nosedives into mediocrity so quickly and completely that I initially assumed it must have been based on a true story, because otherwise why write a show so free of drama? Is there a big audience for a series about how corporations and small-town politicians conspire to reduce costs by reducing the hardness of steel?
Granted, the series starts off strong, and by that I mean: It’s traumatic in the same way that the Aberfan episode of The Crown is: While all the parents of a small town in Wales are out on a “fun run” to support the town, their kids are off being teenagers. They break into a worksite where a huge building is being constructed and start vandalizing it. During the course of that, there’s an explosion. Part of the building collapses. Rescue workers race to the scene. Parents on the run race to the scene. They arrive just in time to see the building collapse, killing nine people inside. All the teenagers and some rescue workers die, save for Leona Bevan (Jade Croot), whose father is basically the town mayor and whose mother, Polly, is played by Sarah Lancashire.
After the dramatic and traumatizing opening episode, however, The Accident slows down considerably, as it evolves into a series about “a Welsh community devastated by tragedy forced to confront difficult truths amid the search for justice.” That’s not an inaccurate description, but what it doesn’t say is that the difficult truths are also uninteresting. Barring a terrorist event, there is no one person or entity responsible for a tragedy this large, and spoiler: There are no terrorists in The Accident.
There are, however, corporations, rescue personnel, middle managers, publicists, and local politicians involved, which makes The Accident perhaps a realistic depiction of the difficulty in finding the truth after a tragedy like this one, where fines might be paid, but no one typically ends up in prison. Realistic, however, does not always mean interesting, as is the case here.
Granted, the performances are top-notch, especially that of Lancashire and Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays a female executive who at one point gives her younger employee/lover a very uncomfortable handjob while she fires him and tosses him under the bus (it’s the most interesting thing that happens in the last two episodes). It’s also easy enough to watch in its entirety in a single night, as I did. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worth watching, however. But it does seem to hit the British drama trifecta, and by that I mean: It is bleak, it is depressing, and it is unsatisfying. If that’s your bag, The Accident is perfect viewing. For everyone else? Skip it.