Image Credit: BBC
The BBC’s latest drama Anthony is a powerful film that was broadcast at a timely yet coincidental date. Over two years in the making, Gee Walker (Anthony’s mother) revealed on Good Morning Britain that the drama was initially intended to reach our screens in Autumn, but was paused due to the pandemic. Instead, it was eventually broadcast a few weeks after the recent Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the world and also poignantly, on the fifteenth anniversary of Anthony’s untimely death.
Anthony is a compact yet hard-hitting ninety-minute drama. Created by the Liverpool-based screenwriter Jimmy McGovern, it tells the story of Anthony Walker an eighteen-year-old black male who was murdered in cold blood at the hands of barbaric racists in his home town of Huyton, Liverpool in 2005.
During the opening, the facts are laid bare. They are illuminated across the screen; the harrowing fact that Anthony’s life was tragically cut short. The final line is the most emotive as it concludes, “This is the life he could have lived.” It is through this lens that McGovern incorporates a gripping twist. By focusing on Anthony and all that he was and could have gone on to be, the drama takes back his life and legacy reclaiming them out of the hands of the perpetrators. The same perpetrators whose senseless act ensured he could not go on to be the compassionate and successful man he likely would have been. Instead of focusing entirely on Anthony’s death and the events leading up to that fateful night, the story-line works backwards.
We initially meet Anthony, played by Toheeb Jimoh, when he is twenty-five. The first scene depicts the fictional Phoenix Turnaround awards. Anthony’s friend Mick Woodfield, a former alcoholic, is presented with an award which in a touching move, he refuses to accept. Instead, he dedicates the award to Anthony who we later learn helped to save his life. Although the idea of working backwards is interesting, it does make for a slow start. It is only once a few years have passed that we really start to understand the significance of these initial events, as well as the depth of Anthony’s different relationships.
The drama cannot tell the whole story of what may have been, and it doesn’t try to. McGovern selects important milestones. Aged twenty-three Anthony and his wife Katherine, played by Julia Brown, introduce their daughter who comically arrives two weeks early during a train journey. The pair are married in a heart-warming ceremony with family and friends. However, the day is not all plain sailing. Anthony is let down by potential suitors for the best man including Mick whose stammer gets the better of him and who becomes highly intoxicated, leaving early.
Arguably one of the most memorable milestones is Anthony and Katherine’s first date. Unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Having worked hard to persuade her to agree to the date they go dancing in a local club. Minding their own business, they are quickly approached by a racist white man who threatens Anthony. Just as the encounter reaches boiling point Mick intervenes. A few years later recollecting the incident Anthony explains, “That was our first date and without you it would have been our last”. The unfortunate irony of his comment is not lost. The real Anthony was murdered shortly after walking his girlfriend Louise to a bus stop with his cousin.
Crucially, the drama includes aspects of life that could impact any teenager, such as parental separation. During the wedding speech Anthony doesn’t mention his father, who left, and is rebuked by another family member. His family life isn’t perfect but whose is? These aspects reiterate that Anthony was just a normal teenager. At times in the film he gets things wrong or is too quick to judge, such as when he berates his sister for wearing a short dress, and for arguing with their mother. But these just add to the portrayal of a real life.
It was 2005 when this tragic event occurred and now over a decade later not a lot has changed. It’s not good enough. One life lost to racism is one too many. McGovern’s moving depiction of what Anthony’s life could have been like shows just one instance of the wasted talent and opportunities ruthlessly stolen by cowardly thugs. It also shows just one of the many possible lives Anthony could have lived. Perhaps if Anthony had set off to the bus stop half an hour later this tragedy may have been avoided. However, we can’t think like that. The timing of an innocent individual alone cannot beat racism. It is a deeply ingrained societal problem that must be addressed. Although we are given a definite hypothetical ending the nightmare of living without Anthony is an unbearable everyday reality that will never come to an end for his family.
Anthony is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.