One-off short TV dramas are, more often than not, disappointments, first attempts at writing or directing that don’t quite come off. Sometimes, though, you get a real gem, and this was one of them.
Without You was a half-hour film about James, an affluent Leeds trendy who had his car stolen. His desperation to get it back drove him to confrontation with the thief, the violent, amoral Billy, and left him dependent on Billy’s girlfriend, Jess, for help. The clash of worlds between James and Jess – his comfortable and secure, hers harsh and squalid – and the gradual shift in the balance of power between them, were the drama’s pivotal themes.
The production was virtually faultless, darkly atmospheric without being overdone. There was real violence, but it wasn’t gratuitous or sensational – the worst moment was Billy urinating on James as he lay beaten on the ground. There were great details too; the dispossessed BMW driver encountering real life in the shape of snogging, coughing, chip-munching bus passengers, the metallic hammering from a back-street garage that turned out to be Billy humping Jess against a steel cabinet.
Lennie James was just right as James, angry, scared and desperate with none of the irritating Alpha Male pose he’s lumbered with in Channel 4’s Buried. His cast-mate from Snatch, Stephen Graham, was convincingly nasty as Billy. However the outstanding performance came from Nicola Stephenson (Holby City, Clocking Off) as Jess. The complexities of her character – tough and scathing on the outside, tender and caring inside – were no great surprise, but she revealed then brilliantly, making each one utterly believable and riveting to watch.
It wasn’t hard to guess what James had left in his car that made it so important for him to get it back, but the reason why it was there, and the way he eventually dealt with it, provided a poignant double-twist at the end. Without You was, in fact, a first attempt at TV drama by writer Andrew Kirk, the winning entry in a BBC talent-spotting competition. By giving it the cast and production it deserved, the Beeb turned it into one of the best and most memorable things seen on TV this week.