Accused, BBC1, Monday<br/>I Was Bin Laden's Bodyguard, More 4, Tuesday

Thanks to all-round quality, McGovern's latest helping carried great emotional weight despite a shaky storyline

Reviewed,Mike Higgins
Sunday 12 December 2010 01:00

Miranda Hart or Jodie Whittaker? I think it's safe to say that Jimmy McGovern wasn't troubled by this casting dilemma for last week's episode of Accused.

I only mention it because who should turn up, playing a sexy barman, but Tom Ellis. Gary! I knoooow! Such fun!

The focus of McGovern and co-writer Danny Brocklehurst's sweaty little morality tale was Liam (Andy Serkis), a cab driver with a life as clapped out as his old Volvo: a barely functional relationship with a wife in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis and a gambling habit so bad that even his poker opponents are telling him to ease off. Into his cab steps Emma (Whittaker), a young woman with a shampoo commercial for a life. Her business trip gives Liam the chance to burgle her flat and pinch a piece of jewellery that he can give to his bright daughter for passing an entrance exam to a posh school. Would that Liam had left it there – but no.

He takes the memory stick from the side of her laptop, and downloads the personal details therein to engineer the break-up of her relationship with the sexy barman and offer his convenient, if lightly dandruffed, shoulder to cry on.

An amour fou between a beautiful estate agent and a needy minicab driver twice her age? It gives me pause for thought too, now I think about it. But so neatly did the production flesh out Liam's desperate sense of domestic imprisonment that the tale was well into its tragic dénouement before you started wondering exactly what Emma saw in Andy Serkis's rheumy, guilt-ridden eyes.

Much of Accused played cleverly on the intimate frisson of a cab ride and the anonymity of the man at the wheel. That curious tension was also to be found in the documentary I Was Bin Laden's Bodyguard. Large parts of this rambling film were set in the cab of Abu Jandal as he pootled his way round Sana'a in Yemen, hustling for fares and recalling his days as Osama bin Laden's constant chaperone in the late Nineties. The tragic irony, he reflected, was that it wasn't he who ended up in solitary confinement in Guantanamo for seven years, but his brother-in-law, Salim, a driver to the senior figures of al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan and, according to Jandal, nothing but a stooge. Worse for poor Salim, he became the first of Gitmo's inmates to face trial by military commission.

Abu Jandal was, it turned out, a nom de guerre, meaning "the killer". And though it emerged that plain old Nasser al-Bahri had undergone a Yemen government rehabilitation programme called The Dialogue and been given the money to buy his taxi, it was clear that he still yearned for those crazy days with the guys in Tora Bora. He had an eye for the main chance too, tailoring his self-justification to fit his audience. One minute he was filmed telling young Yemeni lads about why the 9/11 attacks could be justified; the next he was testifying, at length, on Al-Arabiya, that he had simply changed his mind about al-Qa'ida (not an argument, I imagine, that would cut much ice with brother Bin Laden).

This odd mixture of courage and opportunism was off-putting, at first. But as he careened from a New York Times interview to haggling with fares over a hundred riyals, broke and exposed to god-knows-what retribution on the streets of Sana'a, it was hard not to warm to Nasser, an all-too human ex-jihadi. As for Salim, he eventually returned to the Yemen, refusing to be filmed, a changed man and – the implication was left hanging – ripe for jihad.

Finally, a fond farewell to The Trip. As Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon toured the North's finest rural hostels, indulging their mid-life crises, it became clear, I think, what this amusing, infuriating series was: a journey in which, quite winningly, our travellers learned almost nothing at all.

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