Boy A, Channel 4

by | Nov 26, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

It was an absorbing, exhausting trawl through the depths of a young man seeking redemption for a vile past misdemeanour, yet rarely did it seek to moralise, merely guide; often demanding that the viewer draw on their own experiences to judge or otherwise on the ultimate fate of Jack/Eric.

What was good about it?

• Andrew Garfield as Jack who has been relocated to Manchester with a new identity after being released from prison after serving a jail term, along with Philip, for the callous murder of a schoolgirl.

• Garfield, who has a naturally shy and sorrowful face, perfectly captured the bewilderment and bafflement of Jack as he was tossed back into society with only the help from his probation/relocation officer Terry (the excellent Peter Mullen). Initially he appeared almost as a baby catapulted prematurely into adulthood, missing out on all the lessons of growing up.

• This was exquisitely observed in his tender relationship with Michelle (Katie Lyons), who gave him a crash course in romance, sex and, oddly, photography. At the end she touchingly says that she still loves him, even though they both know that their relationship is at an end (although she obviously doesn’t suspect that he will attempt suicide else she would have tried harder).

• And in other daily duties, even something as simple as choosing a sandwich, while he still had an underdeveloped sense of humour unable to grasp Chris’s jovial sarcasm.

• But the guilt of his crime still bore holes in his persona, such as his insistent belief that Philip was murdered while in jail and had not committed suicide, as if by taking his own life Philip was providing an unconscious barometer of the contrition Jack should be experiencing urging him to follow suit (which, it’s strongly implied, he did in the end).

• Because the characters of both Eric and Philip were so economically defined, Boy A mostly didn’t desire to act as social commentary on the treatment of children committing terrible crimes and their subsequent treatment in British courts. It simply sought to represent the chasm between the perspectives of children and adults of the world around them. But tellingly, it also strives to illustrate the distance between the youthful high-jinx of misguided teenagers and murder so that even as children there has to be some modicum of responsibility.

• As a child, Eric was scorned by his ill mother and brutal father while being bullied at school. He found solace in the friendship of the fearsome Philip (who was similarly abused), who offered him the affection he craved but who ultimately led him to assist in a heinous crime.

• As an adult, Eric/Jack still had these insecurities, yet was shown to satiate his hunger for affection through his best mate Chris and love for Michelle. At one point, his affection did spill over into violence when he saved Chris from a kicking, but elsewhere it was clearly demonstrated (especially rescuing a little girl from a car crash) that he had changed, that he had achieved a form of redemption for his crime. And yet each time he ever felt a surge of joy pass through him, it always had a tailwind of guilt and sadness such as when he sat contemplatively in the pub garden with Chris and immediately had a flashback to an equally idyllic moment with Philip in the park.

• The perhaps clinical, but surprisingly effective way that the viewer was coaxed into realising how much they had come to care for the redemption of Jack in such scenes as when at work he is told there is someone waiting at the front gate to see him and we follow the winding labyrinth through the warehouse thinking it could be a journalist who has discovered his secret, or when he awakens one morning by the persistent ringing of his phone and you are mentally urging him to answer it in the hope that it might be news that the vanished Michelle is safe.

• The prosecution barrister during Eric and Philip’s trial, who was less a man of law but more the embodiment of an amoral, rabble-rousing tabloid more concerned with shifting units through fear and revulsion than reporting the news, yearning to alter public opinion not for the sake of public safety but to flourish their might in altering social perceptions. The barrister even used their favourite stock phrase “for the safety of all our children” that cynically bypasses the intellect, reason, imagination and common sense of the reader to hit the bullseye of human instinct. Accordingly, his fatuous demagoguism drew applause from the public gallery.

What was bad about it?

• Occasionally, Jack’s ignorance of the modern world was overplayed. Visiting Michelle’s home to see a film, he anticipated going to the cinema but she had rented out some DVDs. “A what?” Jack grunted in reply. Jack was in prison he wasn’t Tarzan, he would know what a DVD was (and also be familiar with the concept of David Brent) while the novelty of watching films at home whether videos or DVDs had been round since the time Jack was born in the early 80s.

• When Philip slashes the little girl’s arms with a Stanley knife, she doesn’t get scared enough. She instead threatens to tell her dad, when most 11-year-olds would have crumbled straight away into floods of tears and fled, boys or girls.

• The powerful shot of the two boys’ legs dangling freely above the floor as they sat in the dock in court was perhaps the only time Boy A strayed into direct social commentary, and given that its main strengths were a story unburdened with imagery and the freedom of moral choice it offered the viewer this jarred quite badly.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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