The Walk-In: This timely drama is an unflinching look at the divides in modern Britain

by | Oct 9, 2022 | All, Reviews

In the third episode of The Walk-In Robbie Mullen (Andrew Ellis) breaks down. He tells Matthew Collins (Stephen Graham) he’s never had any friends before. “They’re my mates.” Collins put his arm around him and assures him they’re not his friends.

The Walk-In is a true story from master storyteller Jeff Pope who has made his business to take these stories of modern Britain and transform them into compelling dramas. His other drama this year, Four Lives, looked at the serial killer Stephen Port (Stephen Merchant) and how he was able to get away with killing four gay men and placing them in the same spots for members of the public to find without the police joining the dots and bringing him to justice.  He was executive producer of 2017’s The Moorside which looked at the case of Shannon Matthews – the girl who had been reported missing by her mother Karen who had actually hidden the girl away at her uncle’s house in the hopes of getting attention from her community.  And his 2012 drama Mrs, Biggs, looked at the life of Charmian Biggs (Sheridan Smith), the wife of Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs. All these dramas take a story we think we know and put a human face on things.

Pictured:STEPHEN GRAHAM as Matthew Collins and SHVORNE MARKS as Brenda.

The Walk-in is no exception, but it perhaps hits harder given the recency of the events that it’s depicting. It follows the work of Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism and anti-fascism organisation that was founded in 2014. The series begins with the brutal attacker of Dr Sarandev Bhambra at a Tesco in the Welsh town of Mold in 2015. His attacker chants ‘White Power’ whilst pummelling the defenceless man with a hammer and machete. This is brought to the attention of Hope Not Hate’s Matthew Collins (Stephen Graham) – himself a member of the far-right in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Collins and boss Nick (Jason Flemyng) are both convinced the man was working on behalf of new Far-Right group National Action. Hope Not Hate want to infiltrate National Action by using a walk-in (someone who poses as a new member of the organisation who can report back to them on the group’s activities and plans). Collins ended up informing on those he had been with and twenty years on, he’s still living as a ‘grass’. He has managed to get married, have children and find work with the new organisation defeating hate groups, but his past is never far behind him. Collins and his wife Alison (Leanne Best) are constantly having their quiet family life disrupted. They are forced to move when someone learns of where he lives and although Alison supports his work, she is sick of moving and threatens to leave him when he’s when he has no choice but to return to the UK in the middle of a much-needed family holiday.

In another iteration of this, Stephen Graham could have just as easily played one of the angry men in National Action. He played a white nationalist in Shane Meadows’ 2006 film This Is England, but he’s perfectly cast here as Matthew Collins. It’s interesting to see Graham as the calm, passionate family man and campaigner who is desperate to shake off the awful things he has done in his past. In later episodes (there are five in total) the show flashes back to show to look at Matthew’s time embedded in the far-right group. A group of skinheads who wade into libraries beating up women and children, full of hatred and how Matthew went against them and ended up being sent to Australia as part of the witness protection program.

Pictured: ANDREW ELLIS as Robbie and DEAN-CHARLES CHAPMAN as Jack.

Andrew Ellis is also perfect as Robbie Mullen. A young man who has recently his father to cancer and someone who has never found a place to belong. He’s working a series of dead-end jobs, fitting television ariels and working in a warehouse and is aimless. Easily led and impressionable, Robbie is told by a Muslim man that he can’t come and fit in the ariel in this home because he’s unmarried. His colleague tells him about the grooming gangs in Bradford (the subject of the BBC’s Three Girls) and listens to the people in the warehouse who disagree with Muslims being allowed time to pray. The final straw comes when he’s told the Jews have been keeping a cure for cancer to themselves. It’s easy to see how someone as rudderless as Robbie can be indoctrinated by a group who want young men they can mould into their way of thinking.

Pope’s script is careful not to make Robbie evil but as someone who is desperate to be seen and accepted by a friendship group. The script cleverly paints a picture of the divided nation following the campaigning for the Brexit vote with Nigel Farage’s infamous ‘Breaking Point’ poster making an appearance. The second attack the drama portrays is the murder of MP Jo Cox (Bryony Corrigan), which took place outside a library in West Yorkshire in 2016, shortly before she was due to hold a constituency surgery. The drama makes the smart decision not to show the incident but the shockwaves of her death are felt far and wide with Robbie realising that the group’s activities have taken a dark turn but also somewhat impressed by what they’ve managed to achieve and Hope Not Hate shook by the clear escalation of things.

Pictured: DEAN-CHARLES CHAPMAN as Jack.

While Robbie’s painted favourably, the rest of National Action – now a banned terrorist organisation, are painted as the true evil they are. Early in the first episode, Collins says that the group view them as intellectuals far removed from the skinheads of the ’80s or the football hooligans. In truth, they’re far more dangerous. Far more willing to be martyrs for their beliefs with easier ways to spread their hate speech.

When Robbie joins, he’s taken by charismatic leader Jack Renshaw (Dean-Charles Chapman) he believes in hunting Jews and sees himself as a real martyr for the cause. As the show goes on his rhetoric becomes more extreme, he advocates the murders of more MPs and this alarms Robbie who reaches out to Hope Not Hate and Matthew Collins anonymously.  Naively again, Robbie doesn’t realise the consequences of his actions. by passing along the group’s plans to Collins he has unwittingly become The Walk-in they’ve been so desperate for. In their first interaction, Collins tells what being The Walk-in involves and Robbie wants nothing to do with it. He doesn’t want to ‘dob’ his friends in but doesn’t agree with killing people. He wants Jack to be held accountable and stopped but believes the rest of the men he knows don’t serve to suffer for Jack’s actions. Stephen Graham and Andrew Ellis are brilliant together.  Collins sees a lot of himself in Robbie and this is further illustrated in the flashbacks to a young Matthew who finds himself out of his depth deep within his own far-right group.

Stephen Graham

When he reluctantly agrees to be The Walk-In, he’s prepared for how his life will change. He’s unable to see his Mum (Kate Robbins) and sister (Molly McGlynn). Such is the power and influence of these men, that Robbie feels he’s leaving friends behind. The series does a great job of exploring and explaining how groups like National Action come to be. It looks at how rhetoric can stir up the worst in people and how the internet almost creates a safe haven for these people to share their beliefs and conspiracy theories without fact-checking them or holding them accountable. How they see the vulnerabilities in young men who feel the world has left them behind. It’s truly terrifying that the first episode is bookended by two brutal attacks and that further episodes touch on the Manchester Arena bombing and the attack on Westminster Bridge. It’s a damning inditement of modern Britain and on the police who hassle Hope Not Hate and threaten to close them down if they don’t reveal their source inside National Action. It’s a measured show that is respectful to the victims.

As Matthew Collins, Stephen Graham gives a powerful and nuanced performance. He’s always been good at playing the every man, but Collins is different; a modern hero working tirelessly to make sure young men don’t fall victim don’t go the down path he did in his teens, and that more innocent people are killed or seriously injured in the name of hate or White Power. It’s an important watch that will hopefully further the discussion about what organisations like Hope Not Hate are working to eradicate.

The Walk-In Continues Mondays at 9.00pm on ITV.

The entire series is available as a boxset on ITVHUB.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

09/10/2022

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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