Boy A (4 stars)

Boy A

Channel 4, Mon 26 Nov, 9pm


As Channel 4 looks forward after glancing back at its first quarter of a century, there’s one area of programming where it seems to be especially strong: the one-off trauma drama. In recent times we’ve had Matthew Macfadyen as a sex offender in Secret Life, Mark Rylance as the doomed Dr David Kelly in The Government Inspector and all manner of social horrors in Bradford Riots, Mark of Cain and Road to Guantanamo. Not letting any of us off the emotional hook is Boy A, based on the novel by Jonathan Trigell and brought to the screen by director John Crowley.

Jack (Andrew Garfield) is 24 and taking on a new identity having been recently released from prison after serving 14 years for his part in the brutal death of a young girl. His accomplice has long since committed suicide leaving Jack to face any retribution to come, a fate which case worker Terry (Peter Mullan) does everything in his power to avoid. Clearly, the source for this work is the story of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables who, somewhere in the world, have forged fresh lives for themselves having committed one of the most notorious crimes in modern British history: the murder of James Bulger. While some scenes are too long and meandering (namely Jack’s abrupt introductions to ecstasy and sex), the real issues of media witch-hunts, adult attitudes to children and the impossibility of shaking off the past are tackled sensitively and perceptively. And as the troubled Jack, Andrew Garfield delivers an edgy, turbulent and spectacular performance.

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