Jack Thorne’s charged new miniseries explores collapses both structural and communal in a relevant story that could stand to be a lot better than it is.
This review of The Accident Season 1 is spoiler-free.
The Accident, having aired on Channel 4 in the UK and now destined for a much more prominent release on Hulu, is about to debut to a larger audience than it perhaps deserves. The four-part series from prolific scribe Jack Thorne, whose work — including the recent BBC/HBO mega-hit His Dark Materials — you will recognize even if the name is unfamiliar, has a timely social fury which would have been better served by a better show; this one isn’t bad, per se, but its overabundance of cliches and wobbly Welsh accents certainly don’t help matters.
Set in a quaint Welsh town hoping to have its financial fortunes reversed by a fruitful construction project that’ll bring jobs to the area and liven up the economy, The Accident wants to explore what happens when that glimmer of hope gets brutally snuffed out. The collapse the show deals with is both structural and communal; the construction topples onto the heads of several local children and first responders, and the townsfolk left behind have no idea who to blame. A prideful working-class community torn asunder by tragedy is reminiscent of both the Aberfan and Grenfell disasters, but Thorne’s ambiguous we’re-all-to-blame framing saps The Accident of any polemic power.
What’s left is a character-driven drama about several peripheral figures, but in large part town leader Ian Bevan (Mark Lewis Jones) and his wife, Polly, played by frequent Thorne collaborator Sarah Lancashire. Their tearaway daughter Leona (Jade Croot) was among a group of rebellious teens trespassing on the site during its collapse and survives with life-changing injuries. Elsewhere, the site’s executive Harriet Paulsen (Sidse Babbett Knudsen) becomes a convenient scapegoat and the embodiment of the kind of thoughtless corporate corner-cutting that enables disasters of this kind in the first place, while Joana Scanlan and Genevieve Barr — among others — have not-insignificant parts as regular citizens whose lives are irrevocably altered in the wake of the tragedy.
There are big ideas in The Accident — corporate responsibility and greed, civic pride, relationships, trauma, grief — but none that feel entirely coherent. The four hours the show devotes to these things feel like six or eight, so aimless and perfunctory it often seems. An appropriately dreary and serious tone doesn’t help, nor do put-on Welsh accents delivered in often indecipherable mumbles. There’s a pulse of topicality beneath all this, and probably a better drama if you really comb around for it, but finding either among the debris is an effort.