After The Moorside, 2017’s true crime trend continues with this four-part drama about the murder of an innocent child amid a wave of gang violence. The child in question? 11-year-old Rhys Jones, who was shot in a car park on the way to football practice. We learn about the murder at the same time as mother Melanie (Sinead Keenan), when a knock comes on the door within the opening minute. She rushes to the car outside, and the camera whisks us along with her, not stopping to pause for breath. The drama doesn’t let up from there, gently teasing out the impact of Rhys’ death in an immersive, moving fashion.
Stephen Graham (fast becoming one of the best – and most prolific – actors in Britain) is superb as DS Dave Kelly, who leads the police investigation to find out what happened, delivering speeches with the kind of emotion, humour and sympathy that rings with sad truth. He’s supported by a strong cast, with Michael Moran particularly impressing among the young talents as Moody, an acquaintance of the main suspect who has to choose between clearing his own name or being labelled a grass, which, somehow, is a crime even more fatal than the murder in hand.
Jeff Pope’s writing is as sensitive as it is accomplished, crafting a string of powerful vignettes, from Melanie fighting to kiss her son’s body in the hospital to the hordes of fans at a football match the following weekend holding not a minute’s silence, but a minute’s applause. Often, the simplest scenes are the most powerful, as director Paul Whittington silently lingers in the Joneses’ living room, watching Melanie sit alone unsure of how to get through even the next hour. Brian F. O’Byrne is heart-wrenchingly good as Rhys’ dad, Steve, as their marriage comes under increasing strain due to their bereavement.
All the while, Graham’s pressured, passionate cop continues to push the case along, dealing with the expectations of his superiors as well as his own need to get closure for Rhys’ family – by the time the climactic court case finally arrives, we’re so invested in his pain and the Joneses’ anguish that the threat of a witness changing their story becomes nailbitingly tense. Whittington, a veteran of Spooks as well as The Moorside, expertly balances gripping suspense with sincere emotion, resulting in a four-part drama that is devastating to watch, in the best possible way.
Little Boy Blue is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.