Weekend Herald - Canvas
Lost: A Man And His Life
Karl Puschmann talks to award-winning television writer Jimmy Mcgovern and actor Toheeb Jimoh, about the tragic death of black teenager Anthony Walker and the life he might have had
On a cold English night in Liverpool, two men got out of their car and entered a moonlit park. They didn’t venture far inside, instead stopping and crouching down near a crossroads in the path. The only telltale sign of their presence was the occasional glint of silver when the light caught the steel of an ice-axe.
Running towards them was 18-year-old Anthony Walker, his girlfriend Louise Thompson, and cousin Marcus Binns. They were fleeing two men who had verbally assaulted them as they waited for a bus, before giving chase.
To escape they’d turned into Mcgoldrick Park, a suburban green area with playgrounds, bowling greens and attractive flower beds. With only silence behind them and the park’s exit in sight, their pace slowed. It was then the two men sprang.
In the melee Thompson and Binns broke free to escape but before Walker could get away he was struck in the back of the head with such force that his attacker’s ice-axe lodged in his skull. He died five hours later as his murderers fled to Amsterdam.
Walker did not know the men who killed him. They had no history. No previous run-ins. No beef. This fatal and horrific attack was entirely unprovoked. The sole reason those two men, who are both now serving life sentences, killed Anthony Walker that night in 2005 was because of the colour of his skin.
“It was completely pointless. It makes no sense. It’s not rational. How you can drive yourself to hating someone that much that you destroy their life for literally no reason?” actor Toheeb Jimoh says. “It’s a different level of hatred and violence and evil. It’s something I can’t fully understand.”
Walker’s story is the subject of Anthony, a new BBC movie. “Powerful stuff,” raved The Times in its review. The film doesn’t try to make sense of the senseless crime that shook Liverpool, instead it shows what was lost through Jimoh’s starmaking portrayal of the man Anthony Walker never got the chance to become.
Written by Jimmy Mcgovern, the awardwinning television writer and creator of popular British crime series Cracker, Anthony is an emotional gut-punch as it imagines a life unlived. It starts with Walker as a happily married parent and ticks down through the years towards his tragic death.
“I’ve written stories about grief in the past but I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that captures loss so well,” Mcgovern says. “It’s a woman’s loss of a son but it’s that son’s loss of all the opportunities of life. It still gets me.”
The guiding light of the project was Gee Walker, Anthony’s mother, who is regarded as a city treasure in Liverpool due to her spiritual nature and astounding compassion in immediately forgiving her son’s killers.
“As a writer I’d always gone to Gee whenever I needed information about grief or forgiveness. She was always generous with her time and huge wisdom,” Mcgovern says. “One day Gee came to me, after years of her giving me advice and help; she said to me, ‘It’s my turn now, Jimmy. I want you to tell the story of my Anthony.’ Nobody says no to Gee Walker. So I said, ‘Yes, okay Gee. If you’re asking me to do this, I have a God-given duty to do it.”’
With God — and Gee — by his side, Mcgovern sat down to write. But, he says, telling the story of a young black man was initially a daunting prospect.
“I was hesitant to take the story on because I’m an old white man. Who gives a damn what an old white man thinks about racism? I’ve never experienced racism. I’ve experienced victimisation in my life but not because of racism,” he explains. “It was intimidating but I had Gee with me. I think Gee knew I was doing my best.”
Once he had his script they needed someone to play Walker.
“I was really unconvinced about everybody,” he says, until eventually they found Jimoh.
“I was so glad we got him,” Mcgovern says warmly. “He’s got something that boy. He’s on his way now. He’s gonna be a star.”
Mcgovern is not the only person saying that. Jimoh’s performance has been widely celebrated.
He’ll be next seen in Wes Anderson’s upcoming film The French Dispatch and stars opposite Jason Sudekis in his Apple TV+ sitcom Ted Lasso.
The 23-year-old Londoner says there’s no mystery behind his burgeoning success, just hard graft.
“In an industry where there are so many variables you can’t control, what you can control is the amount of time and effort you put into something,” he says. “On a job like Anthony, I went in, I worked insanely hard, I put my hours in, I devoted all of my time and passion and soul to that project. No one can tell me that I didn’t give the best of what I had.”
Jimoh says he buckled down the moment he found out he’d landed the prized role.
“I’d gone to the pub with a couple of friends and I got the call. I went outside and it was dark and raining. My agent went, ‘The offer has come through.’ I had to resist the urge to scream. I was a little bit tipsy.”
After receiving such positive, potentially life-changing news, you’d think a big night celebrating would be in order. Instead, Jimoh says he got lost in his head and was itching to start preparing.
“The guys were like, ‘Bro, if you’re gonna be like that, just go home and do work.’ I was bringing everyone down, man,” he laughs. “I was ruining the vibe for everyone.”
While the events depicted in Anthony happened 15 years ago, they are still deadly relevant today.
“It’s not a black people problem, this thing of racism. It’s just as much about white people now as it is black people,” Jimoh says. “I think that’s what the whole world is starting to understand in 2020. This is an everybody problem. It’s not just about us, ya know.”
And Anthony isn’t just about racism. It’s about the life that wasn’t for a young man who loved his family, volunteered at his church and had aspirations to become a lawyer.
“My role in this show was to give Anthony the best life possible, the best moments of somebody’s life; their wedding day, the day their child is born, moments like that,” Jimoh explains. “For me, Anthony is about humanising somebody who otherwise would have become a statistic and be just another black boy killed by racism. Instead of that I want people to understand
that this is someone’s life.”