TV Review: Stephen (ITV)

Stephen is a deeply compassionate and quietly furious look at the many injustices of the Stephen Lawrence case

“Never expected getting justice to be my job”

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Joe Cottrell-Boyce and directed by Alrick Riley, Stephen is based on the book In Pursuit of the Truth by DCI Clive Driscoll who spearheaded the 2012 police re-investigation which ultimately led to the conviction of two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence. Murdered in 1993 in a racist attack, the 18 year old Black British man’s case was fumbled in the extreme, the subsequent Macpherson report finding the Met incompetent and institutionally racist, his family left despairing that justice would ever be served. 

And this is where the show is strongest. Sharlene Whyte as Doreen Lawrence and Hugh Quarshie as Neville Lawrence deliver two quietly devastating performances as Stephen’s parents, now separated but still bound inextricably by their son’s murder, their lives shaped not just by his absence but by the absence of fair treatment by the investigating authorities. Thus the arrival of Driscoll, played here by Steve Coogan, a DCI handed the case in a cold case review in 2006, is rightly treated with a high degree of hard-won scepticism and scorn.

As the shortcomings of the original investigation are identified and reworked, Stephen risks elevating Driscoll to near-sainthood, the path to reinstating justice feeling just a little too pat and simply drawn with Coogan’s performance not quite complex enough. It is fun though watching Nancy Carroll and Sam Troughton as the technicians able to employ 20 years of scientific progress on the forensic evidence. And watching a little of the political ramifications play out at an institutional level is enhanced by having Sian Brooke playing an equivocal Cressida Dick. 

But as the possibility of some kind of justice finally seeps through, the realigned focus on the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks (achingly nuanced work from Richie Campbell) Stephen’s friend who was present at the murder, relocates the heart of the show where it should be. Not letting us forget the undoubted and repeated failures of the police, but exploring the myriad ways in which the murder of a young man – a young Black British man – echoes across the years and the lives of so many others.

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