Innocent season 2 review: Wrongful conviction drama takes on new poignancy post-lockdown
Katherine Kelly plays a teacher who has spent five years in prison for a murder she did not commit.
When I interviewed Innocent creator Chris Lang about the show’s second season, he said it was partly inspired by a childhood nightmare, brought on by reading too many books about World War Two evacuees.
The idea for the plot had “partially come from a nightmare that I had as a kid of being separated from my family. And when I came back, I - I was sort of outside banging on the window, and they'd be looking at me... as if to say they didn't know me, and there's an element of that,” he says.
The female protagonist in Innocent season two is not a child, but her plight still taps into those same primal fears. Sally Wright (Katherine Kelly leading the Innocent cast) has been in prison for five years when we first meet her. She enters a courtroom, body trembling, to learn that a new piece of evidence has overturned her previous murder conviction: she is innocent, and free.
Five years ago, English teacher Sally was convicted of murdering Matty Taylor, a charismatic and vulnerable pupil whom she showed a special interest in. An alleged sexual relationship between teacher and pupil was the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case, and although she’s now proven innocent of his murder, Sally knows she will need to find a way to completely clear her name. She “wants it all back,” believing that her life was effectively stolen from her. And her determination will no doubt ruffle feathers among the residents of her idyllic childhood home, the market town Keswick, where she’s hell-bent on returning to.
Innocent season one (starring Lee Ingleby) also focussed on a wrongful conviction overturned, and was primarily about “what is it like to lose that connection with your children,” explains Lang. Season two, by contrast, focuses on “losing the love of your life, even though they're alive and well, and they're living in the community that you grew up in”.
Sally was happily married (and secretly pregnant) when she was charged with murder. Two years into her prison sentence, her husband, Sam (Jamie Bamber), divorced her. He’s now engaged to a former family friend, Karen (Priyanga Burford), who is desperately insecure about potentially losing her young, handsome fiancé to his former wife. And Sam is equally conflicted, realising too late that he should have stood by Sally.
The attraction or reason behind Sam and Karen’s relationship is constantly questioned by nosey locals (much is made of the fact that she’s older than him), inviting the viewer to also question how and why Sam moved on. Is there a darker motivation behind either Karen’s pursuit of him, or his eagerness to remarry? Or are locals simply prejudiced against a match with an older single mum?
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Sally is determined to reclaim her reputation, her teaching career, and the love of her life. But there are some things she can only mourn. As she confesses to Sam, she had a miscarriage in prison while awaiting her sentence. And when she returns home to Keswick, she discovers that her mother now has dementia, and cannot remember her: languishing in prison, Sally missed her last chance to have a meaningful conversation with her beloved parent.
Of course, Innocent is also a murder mystery: if Sally didn’t kill Matty Taylor, then who did? Heading up the new investigation is DI Mike Braithwaite (beautifully pitched by Shaun Dooley), whose wife and child recently died in an accident. He’s naturally sympathetic towards Sally’s plight, and the camera draws parallels between the pair: they (separately) spend their evenings beneath the dim halo of a single lightbulb, isolated and flicking through old photos and home videos.
Sally doesn’t discuss her time in prison, really. She prefers to dwell on good times, or else focus (at least during the bright light of day) on the future.
There’s a beautiful scene early on in the episode, when Sally and an old friend are driving back to Keswick. Sally asks to pull over, before clambering out onto a grassy bank, lying down and pressing her hands against the ground. Throughout the episode, Sally is shown re-engaging with Nature, often going barefoot. The gorgeous Innocent filming locations were a key reason behind the success of season one; here it’s replicated, while also serving the dual purpose of re-emphasising all that our heroine went without for five long years.
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Innocent season two was conceived of long before the coronavirus pandemic, but the themes of absence from loved ones, and absence from the natural world, could not be more relevant now. Sally’s prolonged separation from her elderly mother may also prove close to the bone for the many viewers who stood outside the windows of care homes during lockdown.
If Innocent season two had been released before the pandemic, it still would have proved a great story. But now, post-lockdown, it has taken on a new resonance.