Four Lives
TV

BBC’s Four Lives: the chilling series premiere has drawn an outpouring of emotion from viewers for a very good reason

The series premiere of new true crime BBC drama Four Lives exploring the murders of four young men by serial killer Stephen Port has drawn a strong reaction from viewers, with many praising the compassionate, victim-focused narrative.

The BBC have a jam-packed roster of fresh, new series for us to get stuck into this year. From The Tourist to Rules Of The Game, BBC One continues to be the destination for hard-hitting dramas.

The most compelling programme on our screens at the moment, though, is Four Lives, a true crime drama which explores the murders of four young men by serial killer and rapist Stephen Port.

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Port, who has been labelled as the ‘Grindr killer’, is currently serving a life sentence for murdering Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor in Barking over 16 months, between June 2014 and September 2015.

The BBC drama, which aired its first episode last night, uncovers the shocking police failings that hampered the investigation, as well as the families’ tireless fight for justice which played a significant role in securing Port’s eventual conviction.

The series premiere has already drawn a strong reaction from viewers. Many were heartbroken by the stories of 23-year-old Anthony Walgate (Tim Preston) and 22-year-old Gabriel Kovari (Jakub Svec), although plenty praised the way the drama focused on the events leading up the murders and the fallout, rather than the crimes.

“How completely devastating was #FourLives?” wrote one viewer. “Sheridan Smith, Stephen Merchant and the entire cast wonderful, and the tone so subtly terrifying. The scene where Gabriel confesses to his neighbour that he doesn’t like Stephen sent shivers down my spine. Heartbreaking.”

“I really like that they’ve avoided showing gore & violence and instead give us an insight into who the actual victims were,” noted another.

A third added: “I often have mixed feelings about dramas based on true crime stories, but #FourLives getting it absolutely spot on in this victim-focused and compassionate portrayal. A painful story that deserves to be told well.”

Others were outraged learning of police incompetence and institutional prejudice during the investigation.

“The police could have stopped this after one innocent boy lost his life but their incompetency resulted in the death of 3 more,” wrote one viewer.

“Watching the prejudiced, casual and dismissive way the police handled this case makes it feel like these must be events from decades ago, rather than just a few short years,” added another.

Many viewers also commended Stephen Merchant on his unexpected character transformation. 

One person wrote: “I thought #FourLives was excellent tonight. Not just an upsetting watch, but I also felt anger. Especially after that final scene. Impressed by @StephenMerchant’s understated and chilling performance.”

“How brilliant is Stephen Merchant as Stephen Port, great to see him in a serious role. I’m glad the BBC have dramatised this shocking and sad failure by the police,” commented another.

The series was originally announced back in 2019 but had to be delayed because of an inquest into the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into Port’s crimes.

The nine-week long inquest recently found that there were failures which “cannot be overlooked”. The inquest jury also stated that there were “fundamental failings in these investigations from the beginning”.

Here’s everything we know about Four Lives

Sheridan Smith BBC Four Lives
Sheridan Smith will star as Sarah Sak in BBC's Four Lives.

What is Four Lives about?

The factual drama is based on the real-life victims of Stephen Port, who is also known as the ‘Grindr serial killer’.

The series, which is written by Jeff Pope and Neil McKay (The Moorside, Appropriate Adult) will “go beneath the headlines to shed new light on this story by telling it from the point of view of the families and friends of the four young men – Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor - who were murdered by Stephen Port.

Four Lives focuses on the fight to uncover the truth about what had happened to their lost sons, brothers and loved ones in the face of a now widely condemned police investigation.” 

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What is the real-life story behind Four Lives?

While the three-part drama is set to be insightful and heart wrenching, it is based on harrowing true events.

Over a 16-month period between 2014 and 2015, Port killed four men by giving them overdoses of the “date rape” drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) at his east London home.

The victims met Port via dating websites such as Grindr and were taken to his flat in Barking, east London, for sex. Their bodies were all found dumped in or near a graveyard within 500m of Port’s home.

In 2016, Port was sentenced to life imprisonment after denying the total of 29 charges.

The lasting impact of the case is one that highlights the failings of the investigation and the Metropolitan Police.

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The deaths were not regarded as suspicious until weeks after the fourth murder and the case has since been labelled as “one of the most widespread institutional failings in modern history” by the men’s families.

In the recent inquiry, the court heard how the Metropolitan Police failed to carry out basic checks, send evidence for forensic examination and did not “exercise professional curiosity” while Port continued to prey on further victims.

While Coroner Sarah Munro QC ruled out homophobia as an issue for the jury to consider, Neil Hudgell, a solicitor representing the victims, has said: “Our firmly held belief is that the Metropolitan Police’s actions were, in part, driven by homophobia.”

The inquests, which were held at Barking Town Hall, were told that police had ignored multiple chances to uncover Port as being responsible for the first murder of Anthony Walgate, 23, in June 2014. The result of which could have meant that the later deaths of Kovari, 22, Whitworth, 21 and Taylor, 25, were preventable.

The jury also found that a murder team should have taken over the first inquiry. 

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Who will star in Four Lives?

Stephen Merchant (Extras, The Office) will play Stephen Port, and Sheridan Smith (The Moorside, Mrs Biggs) will play Sarah Sak, the mother of Anthony Walgate.

Also joining the cast is Jaime Winstone (Five Daughters, Babs) as Donna Taylor, one of the sisters of Jack Taylor.

On joining the cast, Stephen Merchant said: “This is a story that can’t be ignored – how four young lives were lost and their families’ brave attempt to uncover what happened.

“This factual drama will shed light on their story, so it’s a privilege to be a part of telling it with the brilliant combination of Jeff Pope, Neil McKay and the BBC.”

Sheridan Smith adds: “‘I love playing real life characters – especially an inspirational woman like Sarah Sak – but with it comes responsibility.

“Along with the other families, Sarah went through so much heartache and it would have been easy for her to just accept what she was being told by the police, but something inside made her keep fighting for her son.” 

Stephen Merchant BBC
Stephen Merchant will star as Stephen Port in BBC's Four Lives.

Is there a trailer for Four Lives?

The newly released trailer for Four Lives features Smith as central character Sarah Sak and is a tense watch. She cries: “I think my son’s been murdered,” on the phone to a police officer who tells her that she “can’t start saying that.”

“I can and I will,” she states.

Watch the trailer here: 

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When and where will Four Lives be available to watch?

Four Lives will be coming to our screens in the new year – the series will premiere on 3 January at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. It will then air over three consecutive nights, with all episodes on BBC iPlayer from the same time.

Four Lives will air on Monday 3 January at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. 

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Images: BBC