Anthony review: BBC drama's unusual storytelling style emphasises loss
This one-off drama's power comes from showing the life Anthony Walker could have lived, says Grace Henry.
The BBC’s Anthony couldn't be more timely, arriving on our screens just weeks after a series of Black Lives Matter protests which took place in the UK (and across the globe) following the racial injustice and police brutality in America that led to the death of George Floyd. It's a chilling tale, and all too familiar.
Based on the true story of Anthony Walker, who was murdered in a racist attack in 2005 in Merseyside, the drama shows how one young man was robbed of what could have been a very prosperous life, due to the colour of his skin.
It depicts how his life was snatched away from him, exploring the extent of racism and the disregard for black lives in the UK, but is told in reverse order, from Anthony at the age of 25 – showing an imagined life Walker could have lived – back to the day he was murdered at age 18.
Rather than telling the story the way you might expect, writer Jimmy McGovern looks to strike a chord and truly emphasise loss by having it unfold in this unconventional format, showing "what could have been".
We’re taken from what is "the end" – with Walker as a loving father, husband, church leader and upstanding person within his community, who helps a friend who has become homeless – back to the petrifying moment of his death, which occurred after he was verbally abused at a bus stop.
If you didn't know better, the film starts out almost feeling like a story of courage and hope, with Walker being honoured at an event at the beginning of the film. You’re smiling for Walker, whose confidence and charm is portrayed so powerfully by newcomer Toheeb Jimoh, you’re cheering him on as if you know him, as he navigates through this life as a selfless individual, constantly helping others.
Perhaps the only downside to this approach is that it means the film gets off to a slow start, as you feel slightly lost in the imagined events. But as the years wind back, as we get closer to Walker at the age of 18, you can feel the walls closing in on him as Anthony encounters racism both overt and more insidious.
During an imagined scene in Walker’s early 20s, he ends up having a dispute with a group of white men in a club, while on a date with a white woman, who would then become his wife. It’s very evident that this is a racially charged altercation, instigated by these men, as they make comments alluding to his race.
But as the story goes back one more year, we’re introduced to another scene displaying hostility towards Anthony in a predominately white space. Here, we have Walker, a black man entering a white-run law firm, telling his experience of racism only to be met with blank faces. It's a powerful scene which highlights the importance of not just diversity but of tackling covert racism.
Finally, we arrive at the chilling moment of his murder, with Walker chased through a park by a man he’d never met prior to this moment.
From the racial slurs, to the physical abuse, this moment is sure to turn your stomach and cause your blood to boil, as Walker is attacked for no other reason than the colour of his skin – and if this moment alone doesn’t leave you reeling, then the sound as Walker’s life support machine flatlines will. Completely soul destroying, your heart breaks for his mother Gee – played by Noughts and Crosses star Rakie Ayola – as she prays up to the moment of his last breath and kisses his feet.
Having been taking through the journey by McGovern, back to this moment, you can really feel her pain, how sickening the loss must've been. It's testament to Anthony that it puts us, the viewers, in the shoes of people who knew him.
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