Punched In The Gut By Boy A

We recently commemorated the 25th anniversary of Channel 4 here on MSN, pondering whether the broadcaster had lost its way. After watching Boy A, I can safely say that Channel 4’s sat nav is back on track and taking the station in the right direction…for now at least. After the intense disappointment of over-hyped abysmal one-off drama Clapham Junction, Boy A served as a compelling reminder that Channel 4 can still pick ’em.

Based on the award-winning novel by Jonathan Trigell, this powerful drama raises difficult questions for which there are no easy answers. Boy A is a fictional story about a young man named Jack (an excellent Andrew Garfield) who has spent most of his life in institutions as punishment for a murder he committed as a child of ten.

At 24, Jack is released into an unrecognisable adult world ("What’s a panini?") with a new name, a new job; a new life. Only his case worker Terry (Peter Mullan – superb) knows his true identity. In the meantime, the media is on the prowl with tabloids and magazines offering rewards to anyone who discovers his whereabouts.

But anonymity is both a blessing and a curse. Jack, desperate to re-build his life and seize this second chance, has to contend with never being able to tell the people he gets to know and love of his true past and the monstrous secret he must keep hidden, afraid at every turn he’ll be found out.

Although fictional, it’s nigh on impossible to watch Boy A and not think of the James Bulger case. I’ll never forget the absolute horror the entire country felt when the CCTV revealed little James being led away, not by an adult male paedophile, a natural presumption perhaps, but by two little boys. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson (as they were named back then) are now the age of Boy A; James Bulger would’ve been 17.

This tense film, clouded with a sense of foreboding, forces viewers to confront dark, emotive, haunting issues and it’s a harrowing watch; my heart was in my mouth the entire time. Thanks to a nuanced, layered performance by the excellent Andrew Garfield, Jack is a three-dimensional character: vulnerable, violent, conflicted, insecure, loyal, tormented. Although the moral ambiguity is a definite weakness (we first encounter the 10-year-old rather shrewish victim snogging another boy – yeah right – before she berates Jack’s friend), contrivances, such as the rescue of a little girl, Jack’s apparent ignorance of DVDs (as if) and the way his true identity is uncovered, should be overlooked to see the bigger picture here: simplistic notions aren’t so simple. Despite being flawed in some respects, Boy A remains thought-provoking drama of the highest order.

Relevant reading:
Andrew Garfield – IMdb profile
Jamie Bulger case – Wikipedia
Channel 4 – Hits of the past 25 years

Today I am mostly lovin’ – Judge Judy. Still lovin’ that show. Judge Hatchett et al? Fuhgeddaboutit. 

Today I am mostly hatin’ – Torrential rain and I’ve forgotten my umbrella. I go into a shop and the geezer tries to sell me a bog standard cheapo, a really flimsy thing that’s probably been made for 45p in a sweat shop, for £7.50. I collapse laughing and take the soaking instead. A pox upon your house sir, you heartless opportunist!

MSN Editor Coops

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14 Responses to Punched In The Gut By Boy A

  1. Shel says:

    I agree completely!  Really hard hitting and dark but I couldnt stop watching.

  2. michelle says:

    yeah, it made me think that perhaps the killers in jamie bulgers case may now be leading productive lives and may even have saved someone as in "boy a" or even become doctors or surgeons and saved countless people. however nothing will ever bring back jamie bulger; my sympathy remains with his family who still have to face their grief every day. this programme will no doubt have added to their pain as whatever the two culprits do with their lives the fact is that they are alive, not like in "boy a."

  3. Aleczandra says:

    I\’m scared….

  4. Coops - says:

    Hey Ninja Girl – what are you scared of? Do tell…

  5. John says:

    No matter which angle you look at this from I immediatly thought (as sushi) of them ######,  they might have been young when they carried out their henious deed but as far as I am concerned they havn\’t been punished for that terrible crime and the more I think about it it looks to me like they have been rewarded. Oh the poor souls, having to live with a different identity, what they need and their social helpers to think about is that poor boy who isn\’t here, or his family and what they have to live with.

  6. Shel says:

    No Name – I think you\’re confusing the fictional story of Boy A with the real life murder of Jamie Bulger.  I agree that nothing excuses the real life crime, however I also think that as I have not live through what the murderers and both the victims\’ and the murderers families have lived through then I can\’t actually comment reasonably (as I was the same age as Venables & Thompson at the time and even then I couldnt comprehend or try to understand their reasons for committing such a disgusting and evil crime)
    However – getting back to the actual comment topic!  I was really confused when I watched Boy A.  Could I excuse him of something he did in childhood becuase he had reformed and wanted to contribute to society?  Did he deserve a new identity because he was sorry for what he did?  Was the son of his social worker right in shopping him to the police or was he doing it out of selfishness to get his father back for the misery of his childhood?  I liked the character of Jack and I wanted him to have had no part in the murder but I was left dazed by the fact he (albeit reluctantly) went did it!
    Anyhow – it made good viewing and even bette,r made me think cos even this many years after the actual real life incident the wound is still raw!

  7. Aleczandra says:

    Hey MSN Editor-san, my good friend….I\’m scared cos it sounds like a veeeery odd film.Have any of your article friends on MSN mentioned me to you at all? I\’ve mentioned you twice.

  8. Coops - says:

    Shel, you make some good points although it is nigh on impossible not to think of the James Bulger case when watching Boy A. Considering that our schedules appear to be littered with nonsensical reality shows, it\’s good to see that thought-provoking drama still has a place and retains the power to challenge. Ninja Girl, thanks for the endorsement!

  9. Shel says:

    I agree that it is hard not to confuse the two – I was just pointing out that you couldnt judge this solely on the Jamie Buldger case but the truelife crime was going to influence how you felt towards the characters that were portrayed.  It was meant to be thought provoking and hard hitting – however my boyfriend couldnt disassociate the real-life/fictional cases either and I honestly found it difficult too.

  10. Claire-Marie says:

    I thought Boy A was one of the best things I\’ve seen on TV for ages!It did make me think though…I mean, I really felt for Jack in the programme.But, would I be so forgiving and sympathetic for the murderers of little Jamie?I don\’t think I could…

  11. Unknown says:

    I agree with the majority of whats been said. The programme still haunts me now. And yes, the question is, could we as a country, county, city, town or village ever be able to forgive a person for acts carried out when they were children ? I don\’t think it is in our nature. The abhorrence of child murder, especially when carried out by another child turns all stomachs and makes us question all that is around us. Or maybe this is me speaking for myself ? I felt complete forgiveness towards Boy A and would begin to like him and want all to be good for him, and then the flashback would appear and my hatred and confusion over the situation would rise again.

  12. Lauren says:

    Very hard hitting and hard watching, but i just couldn\’t turn away. It made me think though if you made friends with \’Jack\’ once you found out, would the relationship ever be the same?
    i felt really sorry for him though as the character seemed to show genuine remorse for his actions. I didnt think it was right for the case workers son to shop him, that was out of spite and pure jealousy as his dad did more for \’Jack\’.

  13. michelle says:

    i saw in the sunday people one of the bulger killers was himself stabbed, as he punched someone hassling his fiancee. (violence breeds violence, shoulda walked away!) he delayed calling an ambulance as it would blow his cover but has had to have emergency surgery. btw i understand one of them is a dress designer. i wonder what would happen if it was revealed (for example) that he was one of our top designers, or if one had become a famous footballer adored by millions. 

  14. Hannah says:

    Boy A was hard hitting, but remember fictional. I personally started to sympathise with the characters which made me feel uncomfortable. This is what TV was made to do – make you feel.

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