“We can all remember where we were on the day of the 7/7 bombings, where were you?"
When confronted with that question at a special screening at BAFTA earlier last month, Emily Watson who plays the mother of a 7/7 victim in new BBC One drama A Song For Jenny, fell silent, burst into tears and then revealed that she was at home, six months pregnant with her own daughter.
Watson wasn’t the only one with tears in her eyes at the BAFTA screening, I found myself welling up more than once, and it appears that I wasn’t alone as throughout the screening I could hear a lot of sniffling from those trying to fight back the tears, and when the lights went up at the end of the screening, most of the audience reached into their bags for a tissue to wipe away the tears.
Going into the BAFTA screening, I knew it was going to be an emotional watch. I mean, how could a story so raw, so real and so recent not be? But I couldn’t have predicted just how emotional it would be, and how long it would stay with me.
A Song For Jenny is based on the 2010 book of the same name, by Julie Nicolson whose daughter Jenny sadly died in the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London at just 24 years of age. Julie was a priest of two churches in Bristol, but stepped down shortly after the attacks.
The drama is a tribute to the 52 victims of the 7/7 bombings, ten years on from the tragedy, and when asked at the screening if she can forgive Mohammad Sidique Khan, the suicide bomber who killed Jenny in the Edgware Road station attack, Julie said:
"I can’t pretend I have much forgiveness in my heart for the person who took my daughter’s life. I don’t feel it’s my right and privilege to offer forgiveness. The only person who can do that is my daughter who isn't here.
All we can do is open our eyes and look at the world and meet humanity with humanity. I had to work within myself at not hating and I am quite honest about that fight but I don’t trouble myself to think about forgiveness."
Watching Emily Watson on stage for the Q&A alongside Julie Nicolson, it was very clear how much this role meant to her and the upmost respect she has for Julie and her story. Speaking about the moment she first received the script, Emily said:
“As a Londoner, it felt like a call of duty. I got halfway through the first page and had to stop. I got halfway through the next page and had to stop again. It just felt immensely emotional and important. As I came to know it (the story) better, and Julie, I felt that she had a unique perspective on the whole situation. [...] I came away from this project with such a profound respect for her."
Emily went on to say how “generous and intimate” Julie was with her before, during and after the filming and described her as a “natural storyteller”, and that’s definitely clear to see in A Song For Jenny. Frank McGuinness, who adapted Julie’s book for the small screen, called her a magnificent writer and went on to say “...I could not have written the script if the book had not been as good as it was.”
Frank McGuinness’s script is a moving and precise exploration of a mother’s response, from the moment she hears about the attacks, to the news that her daughter is missing, to the confirmation that Jenny is among the dead. Julie and her family experience hope, denial, acceptance of grim reality, the anguish of grief and a final desire not to be broken and to honour Jenny.
From the second the drama starts and right through to the second it ends, you are drawn in and mesmerised by Emily Watson’s superb performance and Julie’s incredibly moving story.
It would have been much easier perhaps, for the BBC to have created a drama that tells the story of what happened during the 7/7 attacks from an outsiders point of view. A drama that perhaps would look like a documentary, use archive and CCTV footage, but instead the decision to produce such a loving, heartwarming and equally heartbreaking single drama, from such a unique perspective is one that is worth applauding.
Not only did I leave the BAFTA screening feeling very emotion, but I left feeling extremely thankful for the family I have around me and much like Emily, with the greatest amount of respect for Julie. The way she was able to hold it all together in the Q&A, and the way she has dealt with Jenny’s death is to be admired.
I urge everyone to take 75 minutes out of their Sunday evening to sit down and watch A Song For Jenny. I know that 9pm Sunday night slot is full of great drama at the moment, with Black Work on ITV and Humans on Channel 4, but I urge you to make time to watch this and record the other two.
I’d be very surprised, and deeply upset, if Emily Watson doesn’t receive some sort of recognition for this role in next year’s BAFTA TV Awards. Her performance is simply stunning, played at the right level throughout and with the respect a role like this deserves.
From the writing, to the acting right through tp the way the drama has been put together visually, it’s clear that A Song For Jenny has been made with a lot of love, sympathy and respect for the Nicolson family.
RIP Jenny Nicolson and the other victims of the 7/7 bombings.