Speak to anyone that’s been called up to jury service and they can make it sound like a bit of a chore. First of all, you have no choice about it. Then the court might be two bus rides or a park and ride away. And you might be really snowed under at work when the letter falls onto your doormat. Just imagine it’s an important, complex and intriguing murder trial that you’re asked to help decide upon, though. For us crime aficionados, it’d be a thrill, surely?
BBC One’s latest drama series brings the tribunal to us, effectively asking us to become pseudo-jurors. You Don’t Know Me tells its involving story entirely from the confines of a courtroom, only breaking away in flashback. Whether these flashbacks are accurate or merely the story of an unreliable narrator, we’ll see – or perhaps we won’t. If this adaptation keeps the same format as the popular Imran Mahmood novel it’s based on, this will be the case throughout its next three parts as well. And there may not be a very firm conclusion to it all…
Fresh from his role as the best thing in ITV’s Angela Black, the charismatic Samuel Adewunmi stars as the unnamed defendant in a murder trial – though’s he’s referred to as ‘Hero’ in the credits, so we’ll use that name. We open as the prosecution is summarising its case against him. It sounds damning: there’s motive, CCTV footage placing him at the scene at the time of the murder, the murder weapon found in his house, the victim’s hair in his car and blood under his fingernails. It looks to be a pretty short deliberation for the twelve members of the jury.
As the closing speeches loom, Hero dismisses his representation, meaning he will step down from the dock, represent himself for the final part of the trial and get a chance to address the jury directly. As is his legal right.
That’s the framework of You Don’t Know Me, and it’s an alluring one. It’s a fresh approach – and screenwriter Tom Edge (Vigil, Strike, The Crown) makes sure it works.
And it certainly does work dramatically, anyway. And legally? Well, the book was written by a former criminal barrister with over twenty years’ experience – though he may have employed creative licence slightly. For example, at several points the judge reminds Hero that his closing remarks must not ‘introduce any new evidence’ and must only recap that which has already been presented. But Hero then goes on to tell a huge untold backdrop to the case – a context so wide it goes well past the horizon, going completely against the judge’s decree.
So, the young car salesman begins to tell his story. It’s his defence, sure. But it’s also a story of love and morality. At least it is here in this opening episode. Something tells us the next three parts are going to explore plenty more heavy themes as well. Despite the prosecution’s narrative, this is not a simple open-and-shut case.
The final quarter of an hour here hint at the future of You Don’t Know Me. Things are going to get dark, and Hero is going to become an ever more morally flexible character who is harder and harder to read. This opener did a fine job of setting the scene and providing the concept, the players and the motivations of all concerned, especially our main man. It was a little languid in getting going, but there was real charm and warmth in the early scenes of Adewunmi’s character wooing and falling in love with Kyra (Sophie Wilde, Eden).
How this feeds into whether or not he was responsible for the murder of ‘wasteman’ estate drug dealer, Jamil (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva, Informer), we’ll have to wait and see. But with the final scenes here showing Hero step out of a car towards his missing love and what appears to be her old pimp, with a gun in his waistband, it seems likely that the second part is going to be a whole lot less gentle and patient than the first.
We just hope you’ve been taking notes. Only you’re not just a viewer here, don’t forget – you’re a juror too.
Did you tune in for You Don’t Know Me episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on You Don’t Know Me episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Firing your barrister in order to give your own closing speech during a trial to determine if you’re going to spend decades in prison for murder… It’s a bold move. Using that time to address the jury directly and tell them the exhaustive back story to the case to the near-constant ire of the prosecution and judge? Well, that’s about as gutsy as it gets.
Admitting to the twelve jurors that you went out and bought a gun and shot someone while trying to convince them that you didn’t shoot someone else? Ay, ay, ay. That’s just reckless.
That’s what our main main ‘Hero’ (Samuel Adewunmi) does here, though. Alright, so You Don’t Know Me slightly pushes its luck in terms of what would likely be allowed in a courtroom. Got an objection? OVERRULED.
Hero’s long and winding tale is a risky one as it paints him as a good man, but one prepared to break the law. The jury discovers this when he tells them how he gunned down a pimp to free his girlfriend Kyra and then set up local dealer Jamil to get killed by the gang that forced her onto the streets. The man takes chances.
They also see his human side – and why the prosecution’s evidence is based on false pretences – when he explains how his hair got into the victim’s car. Jamil and his boys, surviving the attack from the Glocks, put Hero in Jamil’s car and took him for a drive. Which is where the end of episode 2 left him.
This smart and thought-provoking courtroom drama has been well received by audiences and critics so far. Rightly so too. The marketing from the BBC hasn’t exactly been aggressive, so it’s doubtful it’s pulling in the audience of other shows that have shared its time slot like Vigil, and of course no dramas compete with Line of Duty for numbers. You Don’t Know Me isn’t watercooler chat fodder for the masses yet. But it is vital.
The assured, unapologetic and yet subtle way it presents its main themes deserves praise. With inferior source material, more unfocused screenwriting and less confident directing, this four-part drama could well have been heavy handed. It isn’t, though. As such it delivers its message powerfully but precisely. Author Imran Mahmood, writer Tom Edge and director Sam Masud – rightfully – take most of the plaudits.
One line, delivered by Kyra as she explained her decision to work on the streets for the gang that’s threatening her brother’s life, hits hard. ‘You are only a good person because your life has let you live that way,’ she tells Hero. She’s telling him not to judge her brother for his drug dealing. He and Kyra didn’t have the upbringing, the family or the love that Hero did growing up. It’s a line delivered between characters, but aimed squarely at everyone watching at home.
There’s a lot to like about You Don’t Know Me, but what this will likely be remembered as is Samuel Adewunmi’s breakthrough. He had a decent part in the recent Angela Black on ITV, but this has allowed him to show range and prove himself as a leading man. You could easily see Adewunmi following the likes of Daniel Kaluuya and Jack O’Connell and transitioning from British TV to Hollywood.
At the halfway stage there’s still so much of the story to tell and so much to find out, although we suspect we may still be left without a definitive conclusion. We don’t mind that, though. Life isn’t always that clear. And good art is always ambiguous.
Did you catch You Don’t Know Me episode 2? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments below…
Some spoilers for You Don’t Know Me episode 3 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
At the end of episode 2 of BBC One’s latest Sunday night crime thriller You Don’t Know Me, we left our hero, ‘Hero’, in the back of Jamil’s car after the botched shooting attempt. With a bag over his head, things didn’t look good.
They didn’t get much better for him, either. Although Samuel Adewunmi’s character survived the showdown – we kind of knew he would, given this is all a retelling of the story from the courtroom – more trouble was ahead. Hero got to see a wider view of the food chain. His antics with Kyra and the Glocks may be losing Jamil money, but worse than that, it means it’s costing the man above Jamil in the drug-peddling pecking order money. An altogether scarier man.
That man was ‘Face’ (Michael Balogun, War of the Worlds). With surprising politeness, but intense menace, he laid out the situation for our main character. To keep a lid on the situation and keep him, Kyra, his mum and sister Bless safe, Hero needs to come up with money. And fast.
Seemingly, the man’s not on a huge commission at work. So selling a few Corsas and an A4 isn’t going to solve it. A plan needed to be hatched to raise money and distract Jamil and Face. Enter Curt.
Just as it looked as if Hero was fresh of ideas, luck and friends, a blast from the past strolls in. His old school friend Curt (Tuwaine Barrett, Blue Story) – a gentle giant who’s mixed up with the Glocks but looking for a way out. He’d heard about Hero’s predicament and was keen to help out.
This third instalment of You Don’t Know Me aired ten minutes later than scheduled because of Boris Johnson’s impromptu plea for the country to get boosted. Someone else about to get boosted was Roger Jean Nsengiyumva’s Jamil.
A plan was hatched. A set-up. A drug deal that’d outsmart Jamil, and put our protagonist on top. It went south, though – as all drug deals tend to on TV and in films. A fight broke out between the two sides, with Kyra and Bless caught up. A gun went off, Jamil hit the deck. He’d been shot, he’s dead. And Kyra pulled the trigger…
So that’s that, then? Well, no. We’re only at episode 3, remember? Turns out he wasn’t really dead. Which complicates matters somewhat. And makes Jamil some sort of south London Michael Myers.
It was a tense stand-off and the highlight of this third part. The tension was seriously ramped up in these flashbacks scenes. As for the ‘present day’ courtroom stuff? Well, the whole set-up is based around this closing speech idea that, spanning the narrative now of three hours of drama, is pushing its luck somewhat in terms of realism. In terms of critiques, though, it’s a very minor one. This is quality drama.
As for scale, four parts feel right here. This penultimate slice kept the plot ticking along, with Monday night’s finale able to close things off. Any longer and it might’ve felt like padding. As things are, it’s all set up nicely for a conclusion.
Is Hero telling the truth about the shooting? If so, who really killed Jamil? Is Kyra safe? What will happen to our main man…? Here’s hoping we find out the answers to at least some of those questions.
Did you catch You Don’t Know Me episode 3? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments below…
Some spoilers for You Don’t Know Me episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
‘The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure.’
― Milan Kundera
There’s no more pretentious way to start a review than with a fancy quote from a highbrow literary figure, is there? It makes both the writer and reader simultaneously feel rather clever and more than a little pompous. Still, as this is our final review of BBC One’s excellent four-parter You Don’t Know Me, we thought we’d treat ourselves.
Great art should leave you with questions, it should be open to interpretation. You Don’t Know Me was a cracking drama – and it certainly left us with questions and much that was open to interpretation.
Its climax, which we’ll talk around instead of specifically about, in case you’re yet to catch it, proved somewhat controversial. Social media – Twitter specifically – was full of praise for the series, of course. Rightly so, it’s been compelling, tightly written and perfectly acted throughout. Yet more than a few viewers were left feeling a little conflicted over its conclusion.
It all depends where you stand on uncertainty. Do you need your stories to be fully resolved and tied up in a neat little bow? Or are you more like ol’ Mr Kundera up there? Are you only too pleased to be served up something more open-ended?
This finale had just under an hour to resolve its tale, reveal Jamil’s real killer and – perhaps – let us know the fate of the unnamed central character, ‘Hero’. As you can no doubt tell, Monday night’s fourth and final instalment of You Don’t Know Me was happy to complete some of those tasks. But not that last one…
Once again, we left Hero on a knife edge at the end of episode 3. The fake trap house and the robbery having gone south with Jamil left shot – but not dead – in a bin, things looked dicey. In the conclusion here we followed Hero, Kyra, Curt and Bless as they struggled to come up with a solution. The only option appeared to be to kill Jamil in the hospital. But Hero is no murderer. That being the case, how did Jamil end up dead from a bullet? Well, you’ll find no spoilers here.
It will be an unsatisfactory ending for some. But the ambiguous nature of it is kind of the point. As Hero explains at the end: ‘Because no matter what those twelve people decide, there’s no end to what happened… In the end, if you want to know the truth of who I am, ask me if I love her. Because, hand on my heart, that’s the only question I know I can answer where it’s nothing but true. “Do you love her?”‘
Sure, this was a crime thriller, and a legal drama. More than that though, it was a love story. It asked us all, ‘how far would you go for the person you love most in the world?’
Would you risk life in prison for them? Hero did. Did he get life in prison? Well, that’s up to us all to decide…
What did you make of the ending of You Don’t Know Me episode 4? And how about as a series overall? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…