Anthony: BBC drama about racist murder of Anthony Walker makes for vital viewing

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Anthony Walker was just 18 when he was murdered in 2005. This BBC drama tells the story of the life he could have lived. 

Updated on 27 July: based on true events, BBC drama Anthony, which airs tonight at 8.30pm, tells the story of Anthony Walker. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Walker is the Black British student who – in an unprovoked, racially motivated attack – was murdered in Huyton, Merseyside.

The 18-year-old had been waiting at a bus stop with his girlfriend, Louise Thompson, when they attracted the attention of Michael Barton and Paul Taylor. Barton and Taylor began hurling racist abuse at the couple and, when Walker and Thompson walked away, pursued them in their car.

Toheeb Jimoh as Anthony Walker in BBC One drama, Anthony.
Toheeb Jimoh as Anthony Walker in BBC One drama, Anthony.

Barton and Taylor ambushed the teens when they reached the park. While Thompson managed to escape and ran away to get help, Walker was fatally wounded when Taylor hit him in the head with an ice axe.

He died in hospital in the early hours of the morning on 30 July 2005.

As reported on 20 July: the trailer for 90-minute film Anthony begins with jagged dramatised scenes of Walker fleeing his attackers. 

As he lies in a hospital bed, though, his mother’s voice can be heard reflecting on what might have been.

“The girls he would have loved,” she says. “The dances he would have danced. The people he would have helped. The children he would have had…

“You will not have my son Anthony.”

You can watch the trailer for the BBC’s Anthony below.

Why is the BBC’s Anthony different to other true crime dramas?

At the request of the teen’s mother, Gee, Jimmy McGovern’s film will offer up a brilliant imagining of what Walker’s young life might have been had he not died.

“I went to Jimmy because I couldn’t think of anyone more suited who could depict, highlight and draw attention to the hard messages of a life not lived,” Gee explained in a statement.

“[I want people to see] Anthony’s unfulfilled dreams, his potentials and the many lives he would have impacted on – which now will never be realised.”

McGovern, who has known Gee for many years, said he felt “a God-given duty to do it” after her request.

Speaking to The Guardian about the project, McGovern said: “We had to find a new way of telling the story, and that’s why I hit on this… to show the life that had been snatched away.

“The night of [Walker’s] death is the only factual stuff in that drama, but that is nailed-on factual. That’s word for word what happened.”

All of this means that we learn more about Walker. That he was a devout Christian and an avid basketball fan. That he was halfway through college with dreams of visiting America and studying law at university. That he was known to his family and friends for his humour, intelligence and, above all else, compassion.

The drama reminds us that Walker was a person, with potential and promise, before he became just another tragic crime statistic. 

Rakie Ayola as Gee Walker in BBC One’s Anthony.
Rakie Ayola as Gee Walker in BBC One’s Anthony.

Who makes up the cast of the BBC’s Anthony?

Walker will be portrayed by Toheeb Jimoh in the drama, while his mother will be played by Rakie Ayola. Further casting includes Julia Brown, Bobby Schofield, Stephanie Hyam, Shaniqua Okwok, Robinah Kironde, Dominique Moore, Ade Ajibade, Wesley Bozonga, Phina Oruche and Siobhan McSweeney.

What have people said about the BBC’s Anthony so far?

Gee, who says reading the scripted version of her son’s imagined future had her “in bits”, says: “As a parent who has lost a child, you never stop thinking: what they might have been like because, for me, Anthony will always be 18 years old. I started to think: how might he have turned out? And that’s how it came about – I could actually see how my son turned out.”

Jimoh, who plays Walker, added: “Anthony’s story is a painfully tragic one but it’s also full of hope, joy, promise and love. Jimmy’s script captures that perfectly. I hope this film will serve as a tribute to Anthony and I feel truly honoured to have been asked to play him.”

And Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, said: “When commissioning drama linked to real life, we consider carefully the individual lives at the heart of the drama but also the wider societal story it might tell. Anthony is a case in point.

“A unique blend of fiction and reality, steered by Jimmy McGovern’s conversations with Anthony’s mother Gee Walker, it is the story of a young man who tragically lost his life but also of a life he might have led. We are honoured to be telling it on BBC One.”

Some, though, have levelled criticism at those behind the drama, stating that an opportunity to hire a Black writer, director, and crew had been missed.

“It’s the true story of the racist murder of a Black man written by *checks notes* a white man, directed by *checks notes* a white man, produced by *checks notes* a white man and white woman, and commissioned by *checks notes* a white man and white woman,” tweeted Hanna Flint.

Pamela Jakiemi added: “Is that the same Jimmy McGovern who a) wrote a musical about the slave trade – King Cotton, b) wrote ‘Redfern Now,’ an indigenous TV series described as a ‘landmark moment’ for Aboriginal Australia! Jimmy McGovern the White male privileged gift that just keeps on giving!”

When will the BBC’s Anthony be available to watch?

Anthony will air on Monday 27 July at 8:30pm on BBC One.

For more information about the Anthony Walker Foundation go to anthonywalkerfoundation.com.

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Images: BBC One

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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