But while these are furiously fascinating procedural dramas, neither of them reaches the emotional ambition of Anthony. Penned by screenwriter Jimmy McGovern (Care), this TV movie is a kind of metafictional examination of 18-year-old Anthony Walker, who was murdered in 2005 by racists in Merseyside.
Photo: BBC/LA Productions
Instead of beginning with a set-up of Anthony’s life prior to his murder, we start with Richard Osman. Yes, that Richard Osman, the Pointless friend from Pointless. He gives a speech at a lavish awards do, mentioning Anthony. In this version of events, Anthony is 25. He has a wife, and a baby. He’s altruistic, relentlessly good.
Proceeding through a Memento-like reverse structure, the narrative tracks backwards, year by year, before finally hitting that tragic end on 30 July 2005. In essence, Anthony is a parallel, what-could-have-been fantasy that shakes, punches and bleeds into the reality that was dealt.
McGovern based his screenplay around conversations with Anthony’s mother, Gee Walker (who appears at the end). He manages to balance bleak tragedy and pockets of humour with beautiful delicacy. He revels in the fantasy, painting Anthony into a rich and interesting life. This Anthony helps his best friend Mick out of homelessness, he meets his future wife, he aspires to be a civil rights lawyer, he plays as a Pointless contestant. These directions cross into the unbelievable and borderline ridiculous with such joy and comedy.
Photo: BBC/LA Productions
Rising actor Toheeb Jimoh, playing Anthony, is a remarkable find – to the point where it’s inadequate to call his portrayal a ‘performance’. He storms and smiles with relentless vigour, keeping a face of moral rationality. Even when hospitalised after Mick punches him in the face, that grin never goes. There’s a permanent legitimacy to him, and he retains a believable humanity. Bobby Schofield is equally flawless as Mick, despite his character being entirely fabricated for the film.
Every enjoyably absurd moment wields a tragic weight, a constant reminder of what will never happen. This bright, silly and lovely life was stabbed out of existence with an axe sharpened by racism. And the other lives Anthony Walker could have improved and saved: all gone, too. Murder entails the theft of potential as much as the life itself, and that burden grows throughout Anthony. It’s a near-unbearable viewing experience, drowned in tears and blood – concluding out of the clouds and down to harsh and violent earth.
The ending flickers into the semblance of a charity advert, needlessly explaining that Anthony Walker never experienced the life he should’ve done. But, given its premise, that’s difficult to avoid and carries a searing, painful punch – especially as the final, funereal words drift into a still, single shot of Gee Walker herself. Her face is full of hopeless hurt, as if all the tears have dried but the wounds inside continue to weep.
Although Anthony could never have hoped to replicate Gee Walker's grief and trauma, McGovern moves us closer to comprehending it. It’s one of the most inventively soul-shattering films of the year, TV and otherwise.
Anthony airs on Monday 27 July at 8:30pm on BBC One
|What||Anthony, BBC One review|
27 Jul 20 – 27 Jul 21, ON BBC ONE