It says so right there in the series title: schoolteacher Sally Wright is “Innocent” of murdering one her students.
As Sally (Katherine Kelly) moves back home –after spending five years behind bars — she’s intent on reclaiming her life after being found not guilty in a subsequent retrial. But it’s not easy; the locals are hostile and there are rumors she slept with the dead student, Matty Taylor, whose throat was slashed with a broken bottle.
The police, meanwhile, have redoubled their efforts to find the real killer among a sea of red-herring suspects thrashing in and around the lakeside English village where the murder occurred.
“Her focus is getting the life back that was stolen from her,” Kelly, 49, told The Post. “Sally’s story is one of misrepresentation. Being found innocent by a jury, that’s not enough. She’s been publicly shamed by the media and social media and mud sticks. She’s judged by people that don’t even know her. People have already made up their minds about her and that takes her by surprise.
“She thinks she can return to a mundane life — but everything is in chaos.”
“Innocent” is in its second season with a completely different storyline and cast. The four-part series, which airs on ITV in the UK, is streaming on Sundance Now. Kelly’s co-stars include Jamie Bamber (“Strike Back”) as Sally’s her ex-husband, Sam, who divorced her once she was imprisoned; Priyanga Burford as Karen Moss, to whom Sam is now engaged; Amy-Leigh Hickman as Bethany, Karen’s troubled teenage daughter; and Shaun Dooley as DCI Mike Braithwaite, who’s intent on finding the real killer while dealing (natch) with a personal tragedy of his own.
Each roughly-45-minute episode moves the narrative’s needle as the investigation into Matty’s murder veers in many different directions down a road littered with twists and turns — and a finale shocker you won’t see coming.
“It’s in that great thriller tradition where everyone is a suspect, even though we know that Sally isn’t,” Kelly said. “The spotlight is put on everybody at some point. Thrillers are only remembered if you don’t see the twist. I really enjoy these one-off stories; I love a good beginning, middle and end and I guess I was looking for something that made this stand out — and Sally felt really true to me.
“She really feels she’s carrying the trauma; she’s brittle and broken but always looking upward and forward,” she said. “Even though she’s fragile, she knows, in her heart, what’s right and wrong and that she’s been wronged. She falls into herself a bit and takes the slings and arrows, but she also has a strength of character to get back on that ship from which she’s been thrown.”
Kelly, known to US viewers from her four-season role as Lady Mae Loxley on “Mr. Selfridge,” which aired on PBS with star Jeremy Piven, said “Innocent” was shot mostly in the South of Ireland last August due to the pandemic; production eventually moved back to England once restrictions were lifted.
“When we arrived in Ireland they were going into lockdown and when we came back to England they were going into lockdown,” she said. “It wasn’t the same as it would’ve been normally; all the pubs were closed in Ireland and we were kept as separate as possible. We were one of the first production teams back and we wanted to set a precedent and we felt responsible to make sure it all went well. We didn’t have any COVID cases.”
Kelly said she’d never worked with any of her “Innocent” cast mates, though she and Dooley, who plays DCI Braithwaite, are from the same town in Yorkshire (Barnsley). “Our families know each other and he knows my dad,” she said. “They support the same football team.”