Saturday, 29 April 2017


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 29 April 2017.


THE BOSS: Monday to Friday, BBC One

On 22 August 2007, 11-year-old Rhys Jones was shot dead in Liverpool while walking home from football practice. A motive for his murder has never been fully established, but it’s thought he was caught in the crossfire between rival teenage gangs. Another senseless victim of gun crime. Another tragic headline.

While the rest of us shake our heads in sympathy and get on with our lives, the families of victims such as Rhys are given no such luxury. Their unimaginable grief and anger can never truly dissipate.

Enter acclaimed writer/producer Jeff Pope, whose four-part drama LITTLE BOY BLUE offers an unflinching glimpse into the living hell of a devastated family.

Made with the full co-operation of Rhys’ parents, Melanie and Steve, it follows them through the aftermath of their son’s murder. It also sheds light on the police investigation led by a sympathetic DS, and the actions of those responsible for Rhys’ death (including a teenager bullied into hiding the gun).

Though necessarily harrowing, Little Boy Blue isn’t overcooked or manipulative. That’s not Pope’s style. His factual dramas are renowned for their sensitivity and basis in extensive research.

Even when dealing with characters as notorious as Ronnie Biggs, Karen Matthews, Peter Sutcliffe, Myra Hindley, Fred West and Cilla Black, Pope always manages to tackle potentially offensive subject matter in a responsible way.

True to form, Little Boy Blue is refracted through an understated prism of journalistic rigour and compassion. Its power emerges from the realistic detail of such heart-wrenching scenes as Melanie and Steve visiting Rhys’ dead body in hospital, where Melanie was gently yet firmly threatened with arrest if she touched her son. He was still regarded as evidence of an unsolved crime.

Explicit mention is made of the police’s tarnished reputation, hence why the innate decency and determination of DS Dave Kelly is quietly heartening. He’s not an idealised hero, just a good man doing his best to ensure that an ordinary family finds justice. He’s just about enough to restore your faith in the police and human nature.

Stephen Graham and Sinead Keenan deliver note-perfect, realistic performances as DS Kelly and Melanie Jones, neither straining for emotional fireworks in their respective roles. They’re entirely convincing.

So what do we learn from dramas such as Little Boy Blue? Why do they exist? More than mere voyeurism, they dig beneath the headlines and force us to put ourselves in the shoes of everyday victims of violent crime. The Jones family could be any of us.

Without resorting to mawkish sentiment, Little Boy Blue reminds us that humanity endures in a world awash with horror.

But hey, at least we’ll always have the meaningless respite of generic daytime quiz shows.

Hosted by the affable Susan Calman, THE BOSS won’t cause sleepless nights for the makers of afternoon trivia behemoths Pointless and The Chase. It’s too blandly derivative to threaten their unassailable cults.

I won’t bore you with explaining the rules, as I’d quite like you to read the rest of this review. Suffice to say, it’s a tension-free compendium of standard quiz rounds – number games, word puzzles, quick-fire trivia etc. – fatally undone by the easiness of the questions. Pointless and The Chase succeed because the questions are well-chosen and occasionally quite esoteric, especially when it comes to popular culture.

There’s just no fun in watching a quiz boasting brain-teasers which wouldn’t challenge even the most bog-standard, pie-eyed pub team.  

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