Broadchurch might be over, but for the next four weeks ITV are making sure you stick with them for your Monday night drama fix, with their emotional new series Little Boy Blue.
Great television drama can really tug at your heartstrings and before you know it, you're welling up at characters you don’t know and stories that have been invented. But when the words “This is a true story” appear on screen, those emotions you feel are somewhat heightened as you begin to think about the real people involved.
Someone who is well versed in dramatising true stories for television is Jeff Pope who has brought us the stories of; serial killers Fred and Rose West in Appropriate Adult, Charmian Brent and Ronald Biggs in Mrs Biggs, Lord Lucan in Lucan, convicted murderer Malcolm Webster in The Widower, Cilla Black in Cilla and most recently produced The Moorside for BBC One which told the story of the search for missing schoolgirl Shannon Matthews.
Little Boy Blue is next on Jeff’s list and tells the story of 11-year-old Rhys Jones who ten years ago was tragically shot in a pub car park not far from his house as he walked home from football practice.
The four-part drama follows the fight to bring Rhys’ killers to justice and is produced by Kwadjo Dajan (Appropriate Adult, Mrs Biggs, Cilla, The Widower) and directed by Paul Whittington (Cilla, The Widower, The Moorside).
As I watched the first episode during a recent BAFTA screening, I struggled to keep my emotions in and as I looked around the room, I could see that I wasn’t alone. So if you’re planning to watch Little Boy Blue on Monday night, make sure you have some tissues handy as you’re going to need them.
You don’t have to be a parent, you don’t have to remember the original story and you don’t even have to be from Liverpool to be touched by Rhys’ story. A story filled with tragedy and heartbreak and with very much a universal appeal. It’s a story about bad choices, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and of course of great loss.
It’s worth noting that Melanie and Steve Jones both support the making of Little Boy Blue and during a Q&A at BAFTA it was revealed that they had both spent two hours with the actors who would go on to play them, Sinead Keenan and Brían F. O’Byrne, with Steve even attending some of the filming whilst Melanie chose to stay away.
It was during that Q&A that Brían F. O’Byrne broke down in tears as he discussed how difficult it was, as an actor to talk about appearing in this drama. Of course he could just go home to his family after work but for Melanie and Steve Jones their heartbreak was real. They have to live with the unnecessary loss of Rhys every day.
The series begins on that fateful day back in 2007, Wednesday 22nd August. I expected most of the first episode to be spent setting up the type of 11-year-old boy that Rhys was, but in reality we only get to see him for a few minutes as he excitedly heads off to football practice, dragging his mum with him to pay the subs.
After a bit of a kickabout we cut back to Melanie ironing in the house when there’s a knock at the door. Opening the door, expecting to see Rhys, Melanie is told something a mother should never hear, that her child has been shot.
What follows is a stunning piece of camera work, a single continuous shot that follows Melanie as she calls her husband to let him know what has happened and is driven to the pub car park where she finds her son lying on the ground, wounded.
Once in the hospital, the paramedics do their very best to try and save Rhys’ but unfortunately after an hour-and-a-half of trying, there was nothing else that they were able to do and Rhys sadly died.
Of course this is a heartbreaking scene, and one of many. But perhaps the most heartbreaking scene is when Melanie goes to visit Rhys’ body and is told that she could be arrested if she hugged her dead son’s body. It’s a sentence I simply cannot get my head around. How anyone can deny a mother from hugging her dead child’s body is beyond me and then to say that they’ll be arrested if they do just begs belief.
As well as Rhys’ parents, someone else who helped with the extensive research that went into the making of Little Boy Blue, is Dave Kelly who was the Detective Superintendent who led the investigation into Rhys’s murder on behalf of Merseyside Police.
Dave is someone who was clearly very determined to bring those responsible to justice and put them before the courts. This really comes across through the performance given by Stephen Graham (This Is England), the actor chosen to play him.
We first meet Dave during a family barbecue where he receives the call that an 11-year-old boy has been shot in Croxteth and immediately leaves for The Fir Tree car park where he’s faced not with an 11-year-old who has caught himself up in gangs, but an innocent 11-year-old who should never have been in the firing line.
It’s not long before he becomes the Senior Investigating Officer tasked with bringing Rhys’ killer, Sean Mercer, to justice.
In my opinion the casting of Stephen Graham as Dave could not have been more perfect. Stephen is of course from Liverpool so that in itself adds credibility to the role and I’m in no doubt that he would have been touched by Rhys’ story as a result of growing up in a similar environment.
One of the many emotions I felt watching Little Boy Blue was anger. Anger towards the gang who had shot an innocent 11-year-old, anger towards the guy who agreed to hide the gun and anger towards those around who knew the truth but failed to do the decent thing.
What really comes across through all of the performances in Little Boy Blue, is the way in which Rhys’ story has been treated with utter respect and the want to tell nothing but the truth.
Of course, some scenes have been altered for the purposes of the drama but there’s no doubting the extensive research that has led to these four episodes telling the tragic story of what happened on that day in 2007. And it’s no wonder that Rhys’ parents have given their blessing to this wonderful drama.