Common, BBC1, TV review: Jimmy McGovern’s harrowing crime drama is another cracker


An action-packed opening is all very well, but as 17-year-old Johnjo (Nico Mirallegro) sped down the road in his brother’s car, you did wonder how he got himself into this mess. Unwitting or not, he’d become the getaway driver in a fatal stabbing.

Why did he allow himself to fall in with such a bad lot? Surely any person who associates with criminals, must be in some way culpable? I should have known better than to think a writer of Jimmy McGovern’s quality would leave these questions unaddressed. They were at the very crux of Common (Sun BBC1), his one-off 90-minute drama on the Joint Enterprise law.

As Johnjo’s barrister later outlined in court, a 300-year-old law first used to stop aristocrats duelling has recently been revived to tackle gang violence. Prosecutors no longer need to prove that a defendant wielded the weapon to convict. It is enough that he or she was witness to it and sometimes, as in Johnjo’s case, even that is unnecessary.

“It’s called Joint Enterprise, y’know, and I love it,” purred the investigating officer played by Welsh actor Robert Pugh. A bed of sinister music underneath Pugh’s actorly voice invested this speech with a little too much pantomime villainy, but that was the only false note struck in an otherwise excellent drama.

From left: Patrick O'Shea (BENJAMIN SMITH), Coleen O'Shea (JODHI MAY), Karen O'Shea (FINN ATKINS), Johnjo O'Shea (NICO MIRALLEGRO), Peter O'Shea (ANDREW TIERMAN)

McGovern’s writing got the blood pumping at the injustice of this discriminatory law, but it never forgot that Joint Enterprise is an attempt, however flawed, to deal with a far greater injustice:the loss of a life. As the bereaved parents, Daniel Mays and Susan Lynch didn’t have as much to work with in terms of stirring, campaigning dialogue, but their harrowed faces were an important reminder of this context. The dead boy, his killer and the witnesses may have come from the same working-class community, but they all had their own stories that deserved to be heard. 

Common devastatingly revealed how Joint Enterprise has taken the class prejudice that treats every kid off the council estate as indistinguishable – or “common” – and made it law. Here, it was Johnjo’s enraged aunt (Michelle Fairley from Game of Thrones, getting to do some proper acting for once) who dealt the fatal blow: “It’s not about guilty or innocent, it’s about getting working-class scum off the street. That’s how they see our kids – scum, scallys...”

ITV is usually more Downton than Motown, but the channel ventured  onto the streets of Detroit last night  to tell the stories behind The Nation’s Favourite Motown Song, a culture documentary with a surprisingly effective populist slant. It was, after all, Berry Gordy’s hit factory that introduced black music into the British mainstream.

The format was a Top 20 countdown based on “an exclusive ITV poll”. The methodology of this poll was suspect – no one polled me, did they poll you? – but it did allow us the pleasure of hearing the likes of Smokey Robinson and Martha Reeves discuss some of the greatest music ever recorded. Shane from Boyzone was also on hand to... er... actually I’ve no idea what Shane was doing in a Motown documentary.

If you could sift the stream of similarly inexplicable interviewees (see also: Michael Bolton), there were some interesting insights. Listening to the harmonies of The Temptations is a kind of religious experience, isn’t it? Although hearts may be broken by the shockingly unchivalrous approach Holland-Dozier-Holland took to writing their impassioned love songs.

“Stop! In the Name of Love” apparently originated in something flippant Lamont Dozier said to a girlfriend during a row. I hope she got a royalty cheque.

Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London