By Katie Heyes
“This is what he could have done. This is what he could have achieved. These are the people he may well have influenced. These are the people he might have loved. And it’s all gone.”
Jimmy McGovern’s 90-minute drama presents a beautiful reimagining of Anthony Walker’s life if it weren’t cut short by racial injustice. As someone from the Liverpool region, Anthony’s story is sadly one that is all too familiar. Anthony’s horrific racist murder in his hometown of Huyton, Merseyside, at the mere age of 18, was a subject of many school assemblies.
Yet, what particularly left a lasting impression on me were the many raw and inspiring speeches given by his gracious and inspiring mother Gee Walker; a truly amazing woman. With establishing a foundation in Anthony’s name, her strength and commitment to challenging racial prejudice and inequality has left a great impact on the Merseyside community and still continues to move millions of people with her sheer resilience in the face of trauma.
It is her strength and open hearted conversations that were the basis for this poignant and thought provoking reflection of grief and the destructive repercussions of such an evil senseless act.
What really made this drama so heart-wrenching was its unique narrative structure. We are introduced to Anthony aged 25, surrounded by a loving family, wife, friends and even the mere mention of his name causes a great round of applause. From then, his story is told in reverse one year at a time, documenting just what a joyous, prosperous and fulfilled life he could have lived. From seeing him taking an old friend off the streets and helping to recover, to seeing him grinning from ear to ear when he holds his daughter for the first time.
From his vibrant and glorious wedding ceremony which is depicted in the fullest detail, to the adorably quirky scenes of getting to know his girlfriend for the first time. Throughout all these scenes Anthony’s humour and compassion shines through every single second he’s on screen and you’re instantly taken in by his charm and genuine passion for life. Yet, it is these scenes that grip your heart and hollows it out.
When the harrowing scene of his attack is carried out on screen, it is slow and agonising. Then realisation sets in. You weren’t just watching a story told in reverse chronological order, we were really watching Anthony’s life slowly get wiped away year by year – almost as if we’re watching this man’s happiness and prosperous life un-unravel. As distressing as this is to see, it serves to bring the cruel and inhumane nature of this story to the forefront. This young man wasn’t just brutally and coldly murdered, he was “robbed” off his life.
Taking the time to emotionally immerse yourself in Anthony’s life; seeing him smile, seeing him laugh, seeing him win, seeing him in love… then it is painfully ripped away from you – a chilling raw replication of what grief and bereavement feel like.
This film isn’t just a film created to educate; this is a film meant to make you empathise and stir something up inside – pain, love, grief you feel every emotion to the highest degree. Most of that is also due to the powerful performances from all the cast. Toheeb Jimoh (Anthony) melts your heart with his fun benevolent persona and the chemistry between him and Julia Brown (his wife Katherine) is something so precious. Rakie Ayola (Gee Walker) also brings so much weight to her performance; her scenes of desperation at Anthony’s bedside with her continuous pleading to God are heart-wrenching, creating one of the most intimate portrays of bereavement I have seen.
It takes a while for what you’ve just watched to sink in. The day after I had to have a moment alone just to process everything I was feeling; it felt like someone had given me a hard punch to the stomach and was dealing with the aftermath. It was thought provoking, traumatic and will stay with me forever.