“Occupying the mid-point between Hollyoaks and Shameless, this Yorkshire-set school drama [Ackley Bridge] has the happy knack of exploring serious issues (race, religion) while never lapsing into preachy worthiness. As the second series begins, Nas is going to extreme lengths to hide her sexuality, and academic achievement at the school has plummeted.”
The Times: Critic’s Choice
“It’s not what you do, it’s what you’re seen to do that matters around here.” Schoolgirl Nas (the excellent Amy-Leigh Hickman) quickly sets the scene for the first episode in a well-deserved second series – at double the length – for Channel 4’s lively drama documenting integration (and the lack of it) in a Yorkshire mil town and the academy at its heart. The latter, lest we forget, was formed when a predominantly white British and predominantly Asian school were merged, a seductive if unlikely premise that more or less guarantees that the show will never run dry of dramatic potential. And so it proves. Nas, out only to her best friend (Poppy Lee Friar), decides to cop off with her equally closeted boyfriend (Gurjeet Singh), a decision with far-reaching consequences that pale in comparison to the secret being kept by her mother (Sunetra Sarker). At school, the head teacher, Mandy (Jo Joyner), takes radical action to improve her pupils’ performance in the face of opposition from some of her staff (notably Liz White and Arsher Ali, who also have a few things to hide. It’s a boiling cauldron of narratives, confronting the realities of deprivation and limits of community integration with cheerful, scrappy integrity and only occasionally slipping into soapy farce. Sitting somewhere between pre-watershed Shameless and a Yorkshire Waterloo Road, bolstered by the stellar direction of the film-maker Penny Woolcock (Tina Goes Shopping, On the Streets), Ackley Bridge blends a cast of utterly reliable established talents with enthusiastic up-and-comers; it makes this sort of popular mainstream fare look easy when it is anything but.”
“A welcome return for the sparky Yorkshire school drama, which in its first outing last year did a terrific job of exploring the issues of racism, integration and difference within an engaging, if slightly soapy, drama format. By now, the debut series’ central premise – the merging of two culturally divided schools – has run its course. But Ackley Bridge retains its capacity to appeal to both young and older audiences by juggling multilayered plot strands focused on students and teachers alike.
This first of 12 new episodes (to be split into two series) gets off to an entertaining start, and mostly revolves around best pals Nasreen (Amy-Leigh Hickman) and Missy (Poppy Lee Friar) – particularly on the former’s struggle to come to terms with having to get engaged to fellow British-Pakistani Naveed (Gurjeet Singh) to conceal her lesbianism and please her traditionally minded mother (Sunetra Sarker). As before, the younger storylines are generally more convincing than the adult ones, which remain largely focused on sexual tensions in the staff room. That said, headmistress Mandy Carter’s (Jo Joyner) struggles to address the school’s falling intake and poor exam results also promises to go down an interesting dramatic route.”
“Last, and in fairness to Channel 4, I can recommend two fine series beginning on Tuesday evening. Bride and Prejudice explores the traumatic world of real-life would-be spouses fighting the fears, prejudices, hostility and incomprehension of friends and family as the approach their big days. And Ackley Bridge is firmly set in the world of fiction, a very grown-up multicultural northern version of Grange Hill, but is the most realistic kind of mini-soap series we’ve seen for some considerable time. A bright future awaits.”
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