BBC Three's Murdered For Being Different: review
We exist in a time when pointless, devastating violence is an all-too common occurrence, whether it’s knife crime amongst teenagers, terrorism or people simply letting their opposing views turn into physical conflicts. We’re as divided as ever, and the lines we draw between ourselves and the people we encounter everyday are ever-more arbitrary despite the heavy cost.
Murdered for Being Different, then, is exactly the kind of thing BBC Three should be making. Following previous instalments Murdered By My Boyfriend and Murdered By My Father, it takes a real-world event and with it attempts to make a wider statement. Unlike those other episodes’ subject matter, however, the murder of Sophie Lancaster (played here by Abigail Lawrie), which occurred at a skate park in 2007, is something that’s faded into collective memory.
Hate crimes are on the rise, as the title card at the end of the programme reveals, but when one thinks of the term minds might immediately snap to racial hatred or attacks against LGBTQ+ individuals. Violence against people for something as simple as how they dress is not something many of us think about, but it is still a terrifying reality for many.
The trouble Murdered For Being Different could have easily run into was the fact that pretty much every single person watching would immediately condemn the events taking place. Not a soul among us would take the side of the boys who assaulted two innocent people, accidently killing one of them, and so the job of the programme is to go a level deeper than ‘isn’t this awful’.
It achieves this with the way director Paul Andrew Williams presents Sophie and Robert’s (Nico Mirallegro) relationship prior to the attack, their first meeting, first kiss and first fight all constructed more like a romanticised music video than part of a true-crime dramatisation. As they come together in an abandoned building, music swells and ticker tape inexplicably falls around them. It is beautiful, and provides a stark contrast to the rest of the episode.
It’s just such a waste, with the recurring thread of Sophie exiting her childhood by finishing Harry Potter novels a genius touch that humanises her story beyond that of a particularly depressing statistic.
The whole point of this story is that the lives of these kids aren’t worth any more or less simply because of what they read or what music they listen to - the things that keep them apart are entirely based on those societal norms that crush us all in one way or another.
The episode could have focused entirely on Sophie and Robert, or on the other side Michel Gorman (Reiss Jarvis) - the unwitting instigator of the events that followed - but instead focus is split across the story.
Michel’s tale is one of real bravery in the face of unbelievable pressure for a boy of his age. The guilt of standing idly by while something horrendous happens is something we can all probably imagine, but what many of us would be unable to do is stand up against our own to see justice done. Michael is not the norm - he is the exception - and we need exceptional people to break down walls.
In the end, though, it’s Robert’s story that will stay with you. The final shot of him defiantly walking through town after being released from hospital, done up with his usual clothing and make-up, is incredible powerful. The camera draws back and we see him blend into the crowd, something all too hard for him to do as both an alternative kid and a survivor.
He has finally heeded Sophie’s words - you can’t hide from the world because you are afraid - and his is the real story being told here. Ultimately, what Murdered For Being Different wants to leave us with is the idea that, while being true to yourself may be dangerous, a life lived without embracing difference is not one worth imagining.