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‘Innocent’ – Priyanga Burford: “Drama world is catching up with real world”, as she talks representation, love rivalry and outsider status in new ITV drama

‘Innocent’ – Priyanga Burford: “Drama world is catching up with real world”, as she talks representation, love rivalry and outsider status in new ITV drama

Actor plays outsider who has worked hard to settle herself and troubled daughter, when circumstances change drastically…

DON’T BE surprised if you start to like Priyanga Burford’s character ‘Karen’ and then go off her as tonight’s (May 17) four-part drama, ‘Innocent’ unfolds.

Burford plays one of the leading characters in ITV’s ‘Innocent’ which returns after much critical acclaim and high ratings success in 2018.

Written by Chris Lang (‘Unforgotten’) and produced by the same team as in the first, this is ‘Innocent II’, but with a completely new story and characters and the setting is important too – Keswick in the Lake District. These dramas explore what it means to be wrongfully imprisoned and then what happens when the conviction is thrown out and the lead character has to rebuild their lives.

Sally Wright (Katherine Kelly) faces the media on her release from prison

Innocent II’ screens from tonight to Thursday (May 20) in four 60-minute episodes and will be available on ITV hub for a month (all UK only).

If you are wondering, like, whether Burford is playing ‘Karen’, an Asian character, she told us: “This looks refreshingly like modern Britain and I am really happy about that.”

Burford is one of the best-established actors on our screens today – as well as having a prominent role in this prime time drama, she played conscientious no nonsense boss Sara Dhadwal in BBC’s hit series ‘Industry’ that screened last year, and is about an American bank in the City of London. She also features in the forthcoming Bond film, ‘No Time to Die’ and was in ‘Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi’ (2017) .

Karen (Priyanga Burford) is an outsider when she moves to Keswick with her daughter

She is also presently developing a film she has written herself and expects to direct this summer and is also penning a debut work for Radio 4.

But it’s her role as Karen in this ‘Innocent’ that we primarily discuss over a Zoom.

The drama starts and revolves around the central character of Sally Wright (Katherine Kelly), a teacher who was sent down for the murder of 16-year-old Matty Taylor, who was a pupil at her school and someone she confessed to liking and looking out for as a bright young man with a great future ahead of him.

The prosecution claimed the two were in a relationship – and that fears of it being rumbled led Sally to knife Matty in a pique of rage and try to protect her career as head of English at the Keswick comprehensive school. They also mistakenly argued that her idyllic marriage to local heartthrob and probation officer, Sam, played by Jamie Bamber, was also threatened by her supposed tryst with the schoolboy.

Sam (Jamie Bamber) is the man caught between his ex-wife
Sally and Karen

New evidence though puts her in the clear, as it turns out she wasn’t near the crime scene and her alibi stands up and there was no ‘relationship’ with Matty.

We first meet Sally (Kelly) leaving prison and resuming her life in Keswick and a new investigation beginning – who killed Matty, if not Sally then?

Karen is all set to be married to Sam – yes, Sally’s ex-husband. While Sally was locked up, Sam finds love with Burford’s character and they are set to be married when Sally is released.

Karen is complex and insecure – an outsider who has moved to the area from London and is finding the adjustment awkward and Sally’s release further unsettles and troubles her.

She is also a single mum and has a troubled 17-year-old daughter, Bethany (Amy-Leigh Hickman), who has a reputation as a bully and is challenging in her own right.

“Karen had probably relied on her a bit too much as emotional support,” reflected Burford, who fleshed out the backstory to Karen with writers and fellow actors Hickman, and on-screen fiancée Sam (Bamber).

Shot in Ireland and in the Lake District, ‘Innocent’ is rather good at creating that small town/village atmosphere – where everyone knows everyone and the curtains twitch when a strange car appears outside someone’s house.

That Karen and Sally are not best buddies might be obvious, but the fact that Karen is a governor at the school where Sally taught and wants her job back adds further personal fuel to the simmering tensions between them.

Burford told acv: “What you are dealing with is a group of people who are getting on with things in their lives which are difficult.”

The circumstances are testing everyone.

“I am a South Asian woman in this small town, I am not white,” Burford told acv. “That is how it is. I think audiences get underestimated.

“I think they are intelligent and sophisticated and they live in the real world.

“I feel like the drama world is catching up with the real world and I just see it as normal.

“Most people at their work will be surrounded by lots of different people.”

It’s a good of way of saying – see Karen as an Asian single mum making a new life for herself in what is a close-knit community.

The Police team investigating the murder in ‘Innocent

There is a diversity of cast in this ‘Innocent’ and it does look and sound like much of modern Britain – all powerful ingredients to what is another first rate drama from Lang and those at TXTV, the production company which made this.

If prime time dramas like this are reflecting and looking and sounding like modern Britain, are we finally making progress, we ask?

Burford responded: “We are getting to a good place, there’s so much talking to do, it’s so important that we get to have these really open and sometimes difficult conversations – like with any big issue, there are so many different facets and so many different people’s experiences to be heard – difficult and awkward as those conversations can sometimes – but not always – be.”

Burford feels that lockdown and the viewing it has encouraged shows that audiences will watch good drama regardless of language, ethnicity or locations.

“Lockdown TV has proved once and for all that I will tune in and watch something where I don’t know any of the actors and people will watch stuff from a different country with subtitles and really enjoy it – as I have done with ‘Call My Agent’ (in French and set in Paris) and ‘Unorthodox’ (in Yiddish and about ultra-orthodox Jews of European ancestry).”

She is also keen to get back into the theatre both on stage and in the audience.

We last spoke to Burford in 2018 when she could be seen in ‘Press’ a BBC drama about rival tabloid newspapers. You can read that interview here.

Burford, who is of Sri Lankan origin, graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English and trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and is married with two sons. It was her love of Shakespeare that pushed her towards acting.

She left us with one final thought about ‘Innocent’: “It is difficult to lose stuff that is really important to you but there is a way back…”

Over to Sally and ‘Innocent’ to show you…

‘Innocent II’ (Series 2) – 9pm ITV from tonight Monday, May 17-20



DCI MIke Braithwaite (Shun Dooley) leads the investigation
into who killed Matty

THIS is emotional and absorbing and the central characters are likeable. Wronged Sally (Kelly) is strong and determined – but just how much of her life can she really get back after being banged up?
Standing in the way is Burford’s character Karen, who has nabbed Sam (Bamber) and finds Sally’s return tough on many levels. Her own teenage daughter’s troubles also loom large, as she looks to Sam for reassurance and support – but he is somewhat understandably conflicted.
Holding this all together is Shaun Dooley as DCI Mike Braithwaite, a decent cop – professional, compassionate and focused on finding the real killer and haunted by his own personal tragedy. If you’re not racing down the pub tonight, this might be a reason to stay in front of the telly and lose yourself in the beautiful setting and a strong production.
Acv rating: ***¾ (out of five)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture