A three-part sequel to Paul Greengrass’s 1999 film, Frank Cottrell’s Stephen follows the 2006 return to the tragic and brutal murder of eighteen-year-old Stephen Lawrence in 1993, which exposed both the commonplace and institutional racism still present in the UK.
We focus on DCI Steve Driscoll, (surprisingly played by family favourite, Steve Coogan) described by The Telegraph’s Anita Singh as “an old school copper”, who takes an organised, procedural approach to the case – i.e. exactly what should have, but didn’t, happen back in 1993. Expect a couple of teething issues with Coogan – shaking off the remnants of Alan Partridge is something which Singh states “takes some getting used to”, and admittedly runs the risk of distracting from the sensitive and important subject matter of the show, but as Singh assures, “the strength of the story soon gets us over the hump.”
Another risk which writer Frank Cottrell (hailed by The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan as bursting with “customary compassion and intelligence”) manages to curtail is the trope of what Chris Harvey, writing in The Independent, calls the “white cop hero”. Cottrell dodges this damaging archetype by sticking to the real script and revealing the pivotal role that Stephen’s parents played in the investigation of his murder, aided by compelling performances from Sharlene Whyte (playing Doreen Lawrence) and Hugh Quarshie, who returns to the role of Neville Lawrence which he so successfully executed in Greengrass’s The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Singh argues that whilst “you have seen all of this before on TV – particularly on ITV… this case, of course, is different”, a sentiment which is reflected in the show’s format which, as Harvey outlines follows the successful detective drama format of “painstaking procedural crime solving, emotional connection with the principals…and star casting”, whilst avoiding, as Singh states, “a troubled home life or series of quirks…that TV detectives are lumbered with in most crime dramas.”
The focus is clear, the emotion is raw, and the content is unflinching. The story of Stephen Lawrence is one which simply must be heard, and ITV’s Stephen is just the voice for the task.
First shown August 2021.