One of the series I’ve gotten a bit behind on is ITV’s four-part adaptation of a true crime, Little Boy Blue. For two episodes we’ve seen how 11-year-old boy Rhys Jones was shot senselessly in a car park in Croxteth, Liverpool in the summer of 2007; and how investigating officer DS Dave Kelly struggled to bring the teenage gang responsible for the killing to justice. It had been powerful and emotional thus far, but – being super-objective – had it been a decent drama? Yes. And no.
The third episode was the best so far. What I mean my best is that during that hour you forgot about the fact that this was based on a true story and the fact you knew the outcome and instead got involved with the drama. Episode three was pure, thrilling procedural from start to finish.
At the end of episode two, Dave ‘Ned’ Kelly was told that the supposed murder weapon could not be the murder weapon because the type of bullets did not match Rhys Jones’ fatal gunshot wounds. But Ned was insistent and ordered forensics to start again and look again and do what it took to find the evidence to confirm the found weapon to be the murder weapon.
Kelly and his team were under pressure, and if there was a theme in episode three it was indeed pressure: Kelly was beginning to swear more, look jittery and, during a rousing team meeting, made his colleagues jump out of their skin when he took his trusty baseball bat to a nearby bin. The clock was clicking, his superiors were getting on his back and there was also the problem of the murder weapon, his best lead.
There’s no greater actor, I think, than Stephen Graham for showing simmering aggression and tension, and in episode three Graham was simply outstanding, as Kelly’s jolly, avuncular demeanour spiralled into pure anxiety.
Kelly wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure – Claire Olssen had changed her account because of pressure from Sean Mercer and his screeching mother; Kevin Moody was feeling the pressure after grappling with the idea of telling the truth about Mercer (he did, and went into witness protection); and even gang member James Yates, who at the end of the episode when everything went in Kelly’s favour was arrested, pleaded for a deal when he was threatened in jail.
Elsewhere, the Mel and Steve Jones’s relationship showed cracks caused by grief and extreme anxiety. With the procedural elements and the emotional relationships of the family balanced beautifully, it was beginning to resemble a Liverpudlian version of Broadchurch.
With Mercer, Yates and co in custody, episode four was all about the trial, and there was still a little bit of nailing things down to be done. The defence was doing their best to pick holes in the murder weapon theory and the bullet analysis, while Mel and Steve were having to put a brave face on the fact such emotionless words and phrases were being used to describe their son’s death in the courtroom. Mercer and the gang, meanwhile, were giggling, throwing things at each other and generally treating the process and the court (and Rhys and his family) with the utmost contempt and arrogance. And yet, Mel – who had been struggling to listen to the descriptions of her son’s death – was told to can the tears, lest she influenced the jury. This was the second time in the series where she had been told to put a lid on her emotions – and once again she complied, her and Steve understanding the reasoning. Mel and Steve, incredible people.
With courageous appearances on the witness stand by Claire Olssen and Kevin Moody, the jury – in truncated, it has to be said, trial sequences – finally found Mercer and his cronies guilty. “All this for a fucking kid?” sneered James Yates as his guilty sentence was revealed. Justice had been served.
There were a few twists in the tale: Dave ‘Ned’ Kelly’s temporary role of Detective Superintendwast was not made permanent; while Steve Jones moved out of the family home, proving once again that couples who endure such tragedy and trauma often find it difficult to pick up the pieces.
So what can we deduce from this piece? I’m still unsure of how to critique dramas based on real-life events, but I think the best way to offer an opinion is to come at something like this from two directions: an objective direction, which looks at construction and narrative; and another, more subjective approach, where you try and chart how something makes you feel. Objectively, Little Boy Blue was constructed well – especially that third episode – and, as a drama, supplied plenty of tense, procedural moments (even though bringing a real-life story to screen is fraught with difficulty and restrictions). However, within restrictions of this subgenre Little Boy Blue was very good. The cast were uniformly excellent (especially Stephen Graham, Sinead Keenan as Mel and newcomer Michael Moran as Kevin Moody), and it shed light not only on a family coming to terms with awfulness, but a community also restricted by old-school hatred of the police and their very own omerta.
Subjectively, how could you not be moved by the plight of the Joneses? It was a horrific, senseless murder of a young boy.
As Mel said in episode three: the papers were saying that Rhys was in the wrong place at the wrong time, that had been wrong. It was Sean Mercer and his gang that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rhys had been in the right place, doing what he supposed to be doing; going where he was supposed to be going. Enjoying and living life.
For our episode one review go here
For our episode two review go here