A Song for Jenny, review: TV rarely offers such heartbreaking insight into human emotion

Emily Watson’s portrayal of Julie Nicholson is mesmerising and devastating

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The Independent Culture

There was so much raw anguish in A Song For Jenny, BBC1’s drama to mark the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings this week, but the most terrible moment came right at the end. That’s when we were reminded by a screen title that 24-year-old Jenny Nicholson was just one of 52 people who lost their lives that day. In the aftermath of the bombings, Jenny’s mother, the Bristol vicar Julie Nicholson, found it impossible to reconcile her grief with her faith. She eventually resigned her post in the Church and focused instead on writing the memoir on which this Frank McGuinness adaptation is based.

A remarkable woman then, offering an unusually honest account of grief – and actress Emily Watson is magnificent in the role. Through her performance, we can begin to imagine what it must be like to wait for a call from a missing loved one, and wait, and wait and still be waiting.

Jenny Nicholson went missing after the 7/7 London bombings


The rest of the cast, including Steven Mackintosh as Nicholson’s husband, Greg, were fine too, but they faded into the background when compared with that vivid central relationship between a mother and her dead, first-born child.

Much more present was London itself, and not as in the old ‘Blitz Spirit’ cliché,  but as the chaotic, confused and alienating city where such indiscriminate violence could take place. Arriving in a London hospital to seek news of her daughter, Nicholson was unimpressed by the well-meaning vicar who approached proffering comfort and a half-eaten sandwich.

It was only the unsentimental kindness of a black cabbie which eventually provided her with some consolation. It was good to discover that this latter incident really did happen and wasn’t just one of those scriptwriter inventions “for dramatic purposes”.

Moving accounts of real-life tragedy are common enough, but it’s rare that the resulting TV drama offers audiences anything more than some safely vicarious catharsis. A Song For Jenny was almost unbearably sad, but also unusually challenging.