review : True-life drama: the case for the prosecution

"This film is not a documentary reconstruction," announced a caption at the beginning of Beyond Reason (ITV). This is, presumably, what now passes for ethics in the field of real-life drama. First you get the viewer on the hook with the promise of true-life drama (in this case, the brutal killing of Penny McAllister in 1991 by her husband's mistress). Then you get yourself off the hook of actually having to be true to life by confessing to your adjustments right away. "No endorsement has been sought or received from anyone depicted in this film," added the makers solemnly, which didn't greatly surprise you, once you'd experienced its dogged advocacy of the central character, the young woman who slit Mrs McAllister's throat when they went out together for a friendly walk.

But this was more than just a catchpenny exercise in crime drama. The script was by Lucy Gannon, a playwright who clearly had larger ambitions than merely paying her gas bill, and the actors were a definite cut above the casting directory lookalikes who often star in the tawdrier reconstructions - given their big break by the line of their chin. As drama you might have felt it a little underpowered in its plotting, oddly patient with the more banal elements of the tragedy, but on the other hand it included details which something more mercenary simply wouldn't have bothered with.

Beyond Reason effectively served as an extended contradiction of its title, that glib, almost proverbial dismissal of any act which seems to elude explanation. In this version there was a reason and his name was Duncan McAllister. Simon Shepherd played him as a shallow emotional bully, an officer who meets Susan Christie on a diving course and makes all the running. She is an ambitious squaddie with her eyes on a commission but she is sexually inexperienced, easy pray, the film suggests, for Duncan's rather casual seduction. He suggests they have an affair almost as if he is making a job offer, and his only emotional commitment, by this account, is to self-preservation.

He is cold and unsympathetic when Susan has a miscarriage, an event that allows the director to use a recurring image of her with blood on her hands and which allows Gannon to build a case for unresolved trauma. "There's no one I can talk to," Kate Hardie weeps, exploiting her particular talent for the smeary ugliness of grief. Sexual exploitation, clinical depression, emotional violence - case rests, milud, my client is clearly the victim in this matter.

But while Gannon can easily portray the husband as a moustache-twirling villain, there isn't much she can do with the wife - there's little point in alienating the jury by attacking the dead. The best that can be suggested here, of a woman who was open and friendly to the woman who slept with her husband and then killed her, is that she might have been guilty of unwitting condescension. Nor can Gannon get round the fact that Susan Christie went for her walk equipped with a knife - so she simply passes over the question of how the weapon comes to be in her car when she sets off for her meeting. It's just there on the front seat - not the object of a plan but a hideous serendipity. Such exclusions, of course, are perfectly proper for a defence lawyer, but you can imagine that Penny McAllister's parents might feel something important had been left out of the account.

"Going over a fence for me is better than having sex," said Oliver Skeete, in the slightly repetitive film Cutting Edge (C4) produced about show- jumping. If the analogy has any force he must knock a lot of things off the bedside table when he makes love, because he barely left a fence standing. But as Oliver is the sole black competitor in a world which is still coming to terms with the extension of voting rights to women, you can only wish him well in his dreams of leaping.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk