Innocent Review: Wrongful Conviction, Small Town Secrets Fuel This Sundance Now Series

Sally Wright (Katherine Kelly) has spent the last five years in prison for crimes she didn’t commit.

Sundance Now’s new import begins with her release after being wrongfully convicted of 15-year-old Matty Taylor’s death after rumors of a sexual affair between the two began swirling around their small Cumbrian town.

Sally returns home, hopeful that she can reclaim all that she lost, but these stories are rarely that optimistic.

Sally’s life was torn to shreds when Matty was murdered. As a student, Sally cared for him, counseled him, and helped him to find his path through school and resulting from his less-than-ideal home life.

Because of that connection, rumors about their affair traveled fast. What’s more exciting and disgusting than a teacher taking advantage of her student? Well, she killed him, too! Except, she didn’t.

Despite what she suffered, Sally never lashed out angrily. Instead, she fought to have her conviction overturned and prayed that Matty’s parents would eventually see an end to their suffering.

What unfolds after Sally’s release throws many characters’ lives into similar disarray. It turns out that more than a handful of people in town could have had a motive to kill Matty, and at least one had a motive to lie about their sexual relationship.

Husband Sam on Innocent

Jamie Bamber stars as Sally’s husband, Sam. Sally wants him back, but Sam moved on, divorcing her while she was incarcerated.

Sally’s hope is that once he realizes she’s innocent, he’ll regret his decision to side with the court ruling over his wife.

But Sam has gotten engaged to a new woman named Karen (Priyanga Burford), who has no intention of losing Sam, whether to Sally or anything else.

Matty’s parents are also under suspicion. Even though Sally had counseled Matty about his home life, his parents were quickly written off as suspects, but there is far more to be uncovered in their familial relationships.

Lashing Out on Innocent

Nothing about returning to her town, trying to reestablish old relationships, and trying to get her life back on track was going to be easy in light of the community’s sentiment about rumors of the affair and the subsequent murder conviction whether or not they were true.

Rumors are enough to tatter the lives of innocents, and convictions and time behind bars are still held against those entirely undeserving of their fate.

But Sally got lucky with her release, as the investigation was handed to DI Michael Braithwaite (Shaun Dooley), who vows to solve the case and set the record straight for Sally.

Unlike similar mysteries that we’re used to watching in the United States, Innocent doesn’t spend a lot of time rehashing the victim’s journey to solve the case. DI Braithwaite has access to the same information anybody does after a death, so it all comes down to the suspects and following the evidence.

DI Michael Braithwaite

Although you’d expect that a conviction means that all avenues have been investigated, it really means that all avenues regarding the prime suspect have been investigated. In Sally’s case, lies and innuendo drove her conviction even though she was never charged with inappropriate sexual activity with Matty.

It doesn’t matter. Those kinds of rumors light a flame under the community and investigators to make charges stick.

Once it’s determined that Sally could not have been in two places at one time, her conviction was overturned, but she’s still relying on DI Braithwaite to find out why she was tossed to the wolves with the rumors, which they both believe will lead directly to the real killer.

Innocent effectively portrays Sally as a sympathetic victim of circumstance, but she’s never willing to let go of the reins, leaving her life in someone else’s hands.

Flowers for Matty

She’s already been down that road, and the system, her community, her friends, and her husband all failed her. Sally will work every angle to free herself from the remnants of her conviction but without malice.

Too often, characters in Sally’s circumstances overcompensate for what they’ve suffered. Sally genuinely cared for Matty and wants justice for his death, but she doesn’t overstep.

Even when it comes to her husband, Sam, she doesn’t push. She wants to understand why he didn’t believe her and how he moved on with someone else, and she plainly lays out her feelings and expectations.

Sam’s fiancee puts obstacles in Sally’s path with Sam and with Sally’s teaching position. Karen is a school board member insistent that Karen not be permitted back in the school.

Innocent Suspect

Innocent comingles Sally’s journey with that of DI Braithwaite, who has also experienced a personal tragedy. His situation offers him a unique perspective that will help Sally get the justice she deserves while simultaneously keeping his mind off of his own problems.

Innocent plays a shell game with its suspects, skillfully moving the pieces around so that every character remains in play until the very end.

Character motivations ensure the twists aren’t cheapened to move the plot along, and the pacing within the four episodes keeps the story moving at a brisk pace.

It presents a nuanced tragedy that affects an entire community, with reverberations that will last a lifetime with a cast that is fully up to the task of bringing the compelling characters to life.

Innocent premieres on Sundance Now and AMC+ using a traditional television format beginning on Thursday, June 24, with the finale airing on July 15.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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