New BBC1 drama ‘You Don’t Know Me’

Sunday:You Don’t Know Me; (BBC1, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Saturday, 4th December 2021, 5:00 pm

Showtrial came to an end last week, but the BBC is bringing us another drama that asks the audience to decide if the suspect in a murder case is guilty.

However, it’s clear from the beginning that You Don’t Know Me is taking a very different approach to its predecessor in the Sunday-night slot.

It begins with Hero (Samuel Adewunmi), a young man from South London, who is in the dock for murder. The prosecution barrister’s closing argument sounds damning, but Hero still takes the brave decision to fire his legal representation and deliver his own speech. He tells the jury he is innocent and starts to share his account of how a law-abiding car salesman came to be in the frame for a very serious crime.

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Hero and Kyra

The drama has been adapted from Imran Mahmood’s bestselling novel, and the author explains that while it isn’t based on a true story, it does try to capture what it is like to find yourself on trial.

The novelist, who is himself a barrister specialising in criminal law, explains: “You Don’t Know Me is a story told by a defendant in a dock, giving a speech to the jury. He is one of the thousands of young men, strangers to privilege and opportunity, who are caught in the net of the criminal justice system each year. For those young men, the court is a system designed to deal with them but not to communicate with them. Not to understand them.”

He adds: “This story although fiction, hopes to reproduce the feeling that many defendants have when they are in court – which is one of being in enemy territory. As a defendant, you sit in a highly charged place and let complex and obtuse arguments of law wash over you. You aren’t required to participate. You aren’t required even to understand. And to make matters worse when you look around the court, you see nothing familiar. No faces are faces like yours. You sit there behind glass being managed and processed. Often oblivious. Often deliberately kept that way.”

However, Hero is taking matters into his own hand. Imran says: “Hero believes that if he can be understood better, he will be treated more fairly. And that maybe is at the heart of the story – to challenge ourselves to know our neighbours better, so that we may better see where and how society fails some people. So, we can see our similarities and close our eyes to the things that divide us.”

As the four-part series progress – the second episode can be seen on Monday – Hero shares the story of how he fell in love with Kyra (Sophie Wilde), a young woman he first meets on the bus. Although he was instantly drawn to her, there were parts of her life that she failed to share with him, and he was drawn into a journey into darkness that put his own life at risk.

It’s a very different story to the one the prosecution is telling, but who will the jury and the viewers believe?

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