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I TALK Anthony

★★★★★


Despite the television schedules feeling emptier than usual due to the halt in production and stockpiling by broadcasters caused by Covid-19, there have been some real gems emerging - often one-offs and often late at night.


For example the 90-minute BBC One drama Sitting in Limbo about the Windrush Scandal was superb, timely and incredibly important as was Michaela Coel's stunning exploration of consent and abuse in BBC's and HBO's I May Destroy You.


Whilst the likes of Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders tend to dominate ratings and conversation, it's these arguably smaller dramas which prove time and time again just how powerful storytelling on television can be.


This week, BBC One are offering us another example of television drama at its finest with Anthony - a 90-minute drama, written by the ever reliable Jimmy McGovern, which tells the story of 18-year-old Anthony Walker from Liverpool who on the 30th July 2005 was murdered in a brutal racially motivated attack.


McGovern of course has form in telling important stories through drama, be it Hillsborough in 1996 about the 1989 disaster or Common in 2014 which dealt with England's controversial joint enterprise law.


His latest project Anthony, was a suggestion by Gee Walker, Anthony's mother - who over the years had helped advise Jimmy on a number of his projects - who told him that now was the time to tell her son's story.


Unfortunately, the story of a young black life cut short due to murder is something television drama has told before. For example in 2017, BBC One drama Damilola, Our Loved Boy won two BAFTAs for its dramatisation of the murder of Damilola Taylor and just the other week, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence from 1999 was repeated on ITV following the announcement of a three-part sequel for 2021.


Not simply wishing to copy what others had done before him, Jimmy McGovern chose to tell Anthony's story differently. It's been well documented that Gee forgave her son's killers, but this isn't a drama about forgiveness. It's an imagining of the life Anthony could have lived. The career he longed for. The wife he could have married. The child they could have had. And the best friend whose life he could have saved.


Told through a reverse chronology, the drama begins with Anthony aged 25 before rewinding back one year at a time, stopping at key milestones such as Anthony's wedding day and the day his daughter was born.


In the closing 30 minutes of Anthony we reach 2005 and see the events of that fateful night unfold after Anthony walks his then girlfriend and cousin to the bus stop, only to be subjected to racial abuse from across the street.


Deciding the safest thing to do would be to walk to the next bus stop, they miss the bus and are followed into a nearby park. Whilst the others were able to run away, Anthony is unable to and is struck over the head with an ice pick in a senseless, brutal and racist attack which killed him.


Usually in television dramas about those who have passed, we form opinions of someone's character through tales told at their funeral or the childhood memories we see played out on screen. However this is never an option in Anthony. Instead our opinions are formed from McGovern's fictional imagining of the life Anthony would have lived.


Finding the right actor to play Anthony Walker could not have been an easy task so I have to applaud the decision to cast Toheeb Jimoh in the role - a young actor with few credits to his name, which in my opinion played to his advantage.


Without the distractions of past roles, the focus for the viewer is entirely on the way Toheeb faultlessly portrays Anthony as a caring, charming and charismatic young man. For the first hour of Anthony we fall in love with person Anthony was never allowed to become. By spending time with Anthony during some of the most important milestones in a person's life, we feel we completely understood his ambition and his character.


If you're anything like me, you'll be forgiven for watching such a beautiful life story unfold and not remember that it's sadly entirely fictional. Anthony didn't live long enough to realise his true potential which for me really hit home at the moment in which his murder is played out on screen, in scenes which are brutal, tragic and heartbreaking.


It's at this point in the drama where the impeccable Rakie Ayola really shines as Gee Walker, offering an emotionally arresting performance as a mother who has to begin to come to terms with what has happened to her son. The moment where she is forced to utter the words "Anthony has passed" is a scene that will test even the strongest of tear ducts.


Of course those who knew Anthony suffered a painful loss but what Anthony does is make you stop and think about those he was yet to meet. The lives he was yet to touch. And for me, that was the most powerful takeaway from this drama. To cut short someone's future is a heinous crime and to do so purely on the basis of someone else's skin tone is disgusting. If ever there was a need for a drama to reiterate that message, it's now.


I really hope Anthony gets the ratings it deserves. Time will tell. However those who do choose to watch will be deeply affected by what they've seen and there's no doubt that Anthony's story will stick with them long after the credits roll.


Anthony airs Monday at 8.30pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer


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