The Walk-In review: Stephen Graham true crime drama is a fascinating but unsettling watch
The ITV series charts the story of Matthew Collins, a former right-wing extremist turned anti-fascist activist.
Only the first episode was made available for review.
**This article contains discussion of subjects including racial violence that some readers may find upsetting.**
From the anti-abortion lobby in the United States, which is also gaining traction here in the UK, to Giorgia Meloni's victory in the Italian election, right-wing ideology continues to tighten its grip across the world. The timing feels especially ripe, then, for The Walk-In, an ITV true crime drama penned by Jeff Pope (A Confession, Little Boy Blue), which demonstrates just how seamlessly fascism can take hold when the optimum conditions present themselves.
The five-part series is set against the backdrop of the EU referendum which cleaved the UK in two and created further space for far-right sentiment to strengthen, courtesy of the anti-immigration propaganda which dominated much of the discourse. Nigel Farage's infamous 'Breaking Point' poster makes an appearance.
The deadly real-world consequence of that rhetoric is laid out in unflinching detail, with the first episode bookended by two horrifying moments. The first is the hammer and machete attack on Dr Sarandev Bhambra at a Tesco in the Welsh town of Mold back in 2015. The perpetrator yelled "white power" before launching himself upon the unsuspecting dentist, who could have been killed had it not been for the ex-soldier who intervened.
The second incident is the murder of MP Jo Cox, which took place outside a library in West Yorkshire in 2016, shortly before she was due to hold a constituency surgery.
The attack on Bhambra is only partially shown and the murder of Cox happens off-camera, which was the right call. The full horror of both is captured without employing a ghoulish lens.
Working feverishly behind the scenes in the series to stop such tragedies from happening is Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism and anti-fascism organisation which was founded back in 2014. Stephen Graham, who also worked on Pope's Little Boy Blue, takes centre stage as activist Matthew Collins, who was previously attached to three fascists groups – National Front, British National Party and Combat 18 – and is now working in Hope's investigations department.
His current focus is National Action (NA), which subsequently became the first extreme right-wing group to be outlawed in the UK. It's small but committed and, as Matthew notes, "well-disciplined, which is unusual", with an effective propaganda machine and a particular focus on young people.
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Following the murder of Cox, Matthew is concerned that the organisation will carry out something similar – and his instinct proves correct: one of its members is planning to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper and a female police detective.
In order to undermine the group and prevent the plot, Matthew needs an infiltrator – or walk-in – to immerse themselves in that world and report back to him. But while The Walk-In is undoubtedly part-thriller, its focus is understanding how and why individuals are swept up in the politics of hate to such an extent that they revel in murder perpetrated by others, and even plan to carry it out themselves.
Robbie (Andrew Ellis), the newest member of NA, is easily influenced by the inflammatory statements he picks up from those around him, and the group seizes upon his malleability. Like so many who subscribe to its worldview, he is cripplingly dissatisfied with his own life – he doesn't have a career or a relationship, and his father was struck down by cancer. He needs somewhere to direct his frustrations and the group recognises that.
When the layers are peeled back, the monster shrinks and the reality is laid bare: they're people searching for purpose and belonging in all the wrong places.
Casting Graham in this role was a no-brainer. He has the gravitas required of a lead but he always anchors his delivery in entirely human traits, leaving you in no doubt he is Matthew Collins, or whoever he's portraying, at a particular moment in time. It's one thing to perform a character and another to give the persona a lived-in, instinctual quality.
The supporting cast, from Leanne Best as Matthew's partner Alison to the NA members, also pull their weight, with Ellis particularly well cast as Robbie. His pared back performance deftly showcases the shift that takes place within his character's psyche as he moves into uncharted territory.
The Walk-In certainly has the potential to develop into a five-star show, but having only watched the first episode, it's too soon to make that call. Regardless, its importance cannot be overstated, particularly when you consider just how much of the mainstream conversation about extremism continues to neglect white perpetrators. "One in every five people behind bars in this country for terrorist offences are white," says Matthew during a lecture.
While five hours of this might prove hard going for some given the grisly subject matter, we owe it to Cox, Bhambra and everyone else who has been harmed to understand the part we must all play in fighting for hope, not hate.
The Walk-In starts on ITV on Monday 3rd October, with all episodes then available on ITV Hub. You can also get a 30-day free trial of ITV Hub+ on Amazon Prime Video.
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