“WHAT did you make of your life? Your God-given talents, abilities, the sheer time at your disposal?” It’s a preachers’ standby, offloading the guilt that we feel for our own failures and shortcomings by persuading the congregation to feel just as guilty (not that, in my experience, they need much encouragement).
But what if the life is brutally cut short, all the potential hope and goodness destroyed, wasted? Anthony (BBC1, Monday), as powerful and moving a drama as will be broadcast this year, imagines what the Liverpudlian Anthony Walker might have made of his life had he not been the victim, aged 18, of a vile racist murder in 2005.
Based on conversations with Anthony’s mother, the writer Jimmy McGovern has created a story of what might have been, developing the talent and promise that was already clear to everyone. It worked backwards, counting down the years: becoming a father, doing good to the needy, marrying, succeeding in studies. The tension crackled as we grew closer and closer to the moment that we knew had to come: the moment when, destroyed by violent hatred, all this positivity evaporated, and we saw what really happened on that terrible night when his line of life snapped.
McGovern imagined the mature Anthony as a man of self-giving love and generosity, eager to bring hope and renewal to others. I complain constantly about the lack of actual religion on TV: here it was, centre stage, a family whose obvious first resource was their Christian faith. “Protect him, O Lord”: the litany that Anthony’s mother extemporises, as she waits to be told how badly he is injured, is so powerful that the doctors find themselves joining in. In this darkest night, her trust in God offers a glimmer of light, offered for all.
One hopeful result of the pandemic is the reversal of our national hierarchy of jobs. Those normally ignored or taken for granted, low down in importance (and, therefore, poorly paid), are finally realised to be essential and worthy of praise and honour. Paramedics: Britain’s lifesavers (Channel 4, Monday of last week) immersed us in the world of the West Midlands Ambulance Service during the coronavirus peak, in April.
This was sobering, moving, inspiring — humankind at its best, lives of duty and service to others, the crews’ own fears and vulnerability acknowledged: what would happen to their families if they caught it? Note how they constantly use humour to make fear and tragedy bearable, and to defuse aggression.
In The Real Eastenders (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week), the musician Hak Baker showed us life on the Isle of Dogs (an area I used to know rather well): life, that is, on the council estates, not high-rise Canary Wharf. Warm-hearted and well-meaning, it reprised the familiar clichés: chirpy close-knit villains making their way as best they can in a hostile world, the significant presence of ex-Bangladeshi Muslims entirely ignored.