Did we like it?
A brilliant, non-judgmental drama about a tragic young man who flipped spasmodically between angel and devil.
What was good about it?
• Tom Hardy’s performance as the title character Stuart. For much of the time he would shamble around with Alexander, mumbling platitudes about nothing very much. And this would deepen the mystery of how he had been in and out of prison for much of his adult life.
• This was revealed in the explosive flashbacks that saw Stuart assault and threaten to kill his wife while his infant son lay next to her in his cot, or when he smashed up his flat naked and covered in blood as the police stormed the building to arrest him. And his slurred confessions of how he was appallingly abused by both his late brother and his friend and the care home manager where he fled after the abuse by his brother pushed him over the edge.
• The evolution of the friendship between the testy, timid Alexander (the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) and Stuart. Before they even met, Alexander was introduced as someone with a concern about the disadvantaged members of society but who also exhibited an instinctive disgust towards them, too. His bond with Stuart changed this.
• After Stuart interrupted a meeting campaigning for the release of the owners of the homeless refuge Alexander worked for, Alexander tartly claimed: “I’ve no idea who he is; they [the homeless] all look the same to me.” Later when Alexander invites Stuart to his flat, he rushed to make a cup of tea fearful that his drug-addict is about to thieve his possessions.
• The way in which Stuart’s obsession with violence twists between the comical and the tragic. On their way to a protest in London, Alexander muses on Stuart’s motivation. “Stuart had an idea to do a sleepover protest in front of the Home Office to urge Jack Straw to free Ruth and John. Which was better than his first idea – which was to kidnap him.” And when Stuart was accused of attempted manslaughter, Alexander finds it hilarious that his cartoon character friend had threatened to cut off his neighbour’s head. While Stuart’s incompetent life of crime with his pal Smithy was similarly played for laughs as Smithy organised the armed raids as if commanding the SAS yet they were carried out with all the adroitness of the Keystone Cops.
• These episodes were often contrasted with times in Stuart’s life when the “black mist” descended such as they time when he assaulted his wife, or when he flew into a naked rage. But the most touching of all came near the end when Stuart told Alexander the one thing he would change about his life would be “the day I found violence”, which was shown when he head-butted a boy who had been bullying Stuart because of his muscular dystrophy.
• The role reversal humour of Stuart’s visit to an MP, during which he is as articulate as he has ever been and dressed smartly in a suit while beside him Alexander is attired scruffily and gets embarrassed when the can of beer he’d just confiscated from Stuart froths over in his coat pocket.
• The humour of Alexander’s awkward visit to Stuart’s grandparents’ where he is reduced to nervously pointing at photos and asking “Stuart?”
• The sporadic moments of wisdom Stuart could suddenly pipe up with. “Wine always smells of sick,” he scorned.
• Nicola Duffett as Stuart’s mother who acknowledged her son’s failings yet always fretted in that indelibly maternal manner such as when he smashed up his flat and she was glad to see no evidence of blood or after his funeral when she tidied up his grave after his friends had celebrated his life with a raucous party.
What was bad about it?
• The winsome acoustic guitar theme tune that was utterly at odds with the traumatic drama, and wasn’t even ironic enough to act as a contrast to Stuart’s turbulent life.
• Stuart began many sentences with “I’m not being funny…” now the totem pole of absolute craven stupidity because of Big Brother.