The drama in question is part of a UK serial, Accused, created for the BBC by screenwriter Jimmy McGovern. More specifically, it is the first episode of season 2. I haven't seen any of the other episodes, but I was so taken with the subtlety and brilliance of this one that I will be sure to take a look.
|Sean Bean as Tracie|
Let me say right up front that I think this is one of the best pieces of television featuring a crossdressing character that I have ever seen. It is clever, fresh, compelling and sympathetic. The dialogue sizzles (every one of Tracie's one-liners is a gem), and the characters are rounded and complex. It tackles all the issues you would expect, head on, but in ways you wouldn't expect. I am not going to spoil it for you, because I think it's just too good, but there are some points which are worthy of comment.
Tony: You get that a lot, do you? Aggro?We join the action as Bean's character, Tracie Tremarco, gets all dolled up for a night on the town (Manchester), in what I wincingly regard as over-the-top drag: the long blonde hair, the short skirt, the sparkly dress, the long nails. But then we see Tracie expertly (if a little wearily) deflect the critical and mocking abuse she gets from the taxi driver and from some drunken lads in the pub. Later she picks up an apparently straight man, Tony (Stephen Graham), and they go back to Tracie's flat where they have sex.
Tony: So why do it?
Tracie: Because it's who I am, darlin'!
Tony: What do you do for a living?
Tracie: Nothing, doll. Tracie's a good time girl.
Tony: So who pays for this place?
Tracie: Simon, love. The most boring man in the world.
|A crossdressing academic, you say? Whatever next?|
Tony: I haven't got the balls to be seen out with you. But shall I tell you why? It's because you make no bleedin' effort to look like a woman. A real woman!As the relationship deepens, Simon gradually rediscovers his zest for life. His students look up in surprise as he reads the poetry with fire and passion. Later there is a powerful scene where Simon, walking along the street, sees Tony coming the other way, and realises Tony does not recognise him. Simon's distress is played out perfectly by Bean, without a word of dialogue being spoken.
Tracie: I never claimed to be Cheryl bloody Cole!
Tony: I never expected you to turn into Cheryl Cole. But you're going to have to do a lot better than Old King fucking Cole if you want to be seen out in public with me. So just have a go. Eh?
Tracie: What, and you'll take me out?
|Did anyone ever tell you you look a bit like Cheryl Cole?|
Later still, Tracie visits a shopping mall for a makeover. A beautiful young woman leans in close to apply the makeup, and we follow Tracie's eyes looking at each feature of this young woman: her pearl earring, her eyes, her lips, her figure. Though we, the audience, know what's really going on in Tracie's mind, the expression on her face mirrors a recurring feeling I have often had when I compare myself to real women: how could I ever possibly hope to look half as good as that?
The theme of the series Accused is legal drama. In each episode, there is a different lead character, and we see scenes from their life as they become involved in something illegal, interspersed with tense courtroom scenes. So I am not letting any cats out of any bags by letting it slip that Bean's character ends up in court. But here is where my revelations end: if you want more, you will need to see it for yourself! It seems to be available on YouTube here. Trust me, though. You won't see all the subtlety on a single viewing.
Reviews have been extremely favourable. The Huffington Post said "Bean has rarely been better, showing a vulnerability and complexity many miles away from his usual tough-man". Metro said the show "could have played out like a cliché but thanks to a gritty, chip-on-the-shoulderpad turn from Bean, matched every uneasy flirt of the way by Stephen Graham as the tightly wound Tony, these characters worked their way under the skin. It was a little heavy on the melodrama but these emotional wounds were palpable".
Bean's performance is a triumph, especially given his background playing hard men and villains. The British tabloid press breathlessly reported that Bean had gone out dressed as a woman to research the role, as if this was somehow a surprise. However, the broadsheet press was a little more enlightened in its reporting. The Independent interviewed Bean and quoted him:
Bean: I got pretty good at [walking in high heels], walking on cobblestones and all sorts. I had a full body wax, the high heels, short skirts, bras – everything – it was proper full-on. I became totally absorbed: it was wonderful being involved in it, I just didn't want to leave it, the character. I became very close to Tracie. It's a brilliant script: very moving, very dark humour.I congratulate Bean on his courage taking on this role, and for his ability to bring it to life. He manages to avoid the obvious farcical elements and provides us with a character which is portrayed sensitively and with subtlety, but with moments of wry comedy nonetheless. His performance won him the title of Best Actor at the Royal Television Society Awards.
Who would have thought I'd have been dressing up as a woman and embracing that? It just came out of the blue and it was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done, one of the things I'm most proud of. I just think I could never have invented that.
|I mean, do I look like a man in a dress?|
Second, there are aspects to the character of Tracie which don't quite sit comfortably with me, though it is plain that the writer has tried extremely hard to do his homework on the subject (hitting several nails squarely on the head with powerful lines about married men who are "curious" about transvestites). There is an odd separation between Simon and Tracie: each talks of the other in the third person, as if they were separate people. For some crossdressers, this might indeed be how they compartmentalise their lives; for me, I know it isn't.
Thirdly, Simon dresses as Tracie because he is a gay man.
Tracie: Young Simon... realised he had to tell his parents he was gay, or kill himself. So he decided having a dead son was slightly worse than having a gay one, so that's why he told them.
Finally, by bringing the character of Tracie to a mainstream audience, the writers are belting out a powerful and welcome message: you might find them repellent, but transvestites are human beings too.