Saturday, 17 October 2015

Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster (2015)


The brutal mob murder of 20 year old student Sophie Lancaster in a park in Bacup, Lancashire in 2007 is one that affected me deeply.

For a start, it occurred in a town not too far from me and I never expected such an atrocity against someone, just because of their appearance, was possible here. 

Sophie Lancaster was killed because she was a goth. Her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, was also viciously attacked and barely escaped with his life.  He too was a goth.

Coming from Lancashire, I'm fully aware of how uniform so much of life can be in these small post industrial towns. Towns where cities like Liverpool and Manchester are only a train ride away but often feel more like a world away. In the first half of the 00s, I was in a long term relationship for several years with a young girl who, like Sophie, dared to be different, dared to be herself. She would wear big fuck off boots with wispy traditional feminine dresses, she would dye her hair, even shave her head to the bone. She was tattooed and pierced. She would get looks. She would get comments. Even now I, wearing a corduroy jacket with a badge or two in the lapel, will get the odd look in St Helens - people who stand out from the flock of track suits and the hoodies often do.

But to attack someone because you are different to them is unthinkable. Unforgiveable. Unbelievable. Nevertheless it happened in Bacup one August night eight years ago.


Originally commissioned by Radio 4 for their Afternoon Play strand in 2011, and subsequently adapted for the stage in Manchester, Black Roses combines the words of Sophie’s traumatised, grieving mother Sylvia - played here by former Coronation Street star and activist Julie Hesmondhalgh - with those of the poet Simon Armitage, whose beautiful, haunting verse gives voice to Sophie before, during and after the savage attack.


Made for BBC4 and broadcast last Sunday, this heartfelt adaptation proves that the BBC still has the ability and the inclination to produce the single drama. It was an extremely poignant production of great impact as Hesmondhalgh delivers Sylvia’s recollections of her beautiful daughter’s all too short life, whilst Rachel Austin embodied Sophie herself; an extraordinary presence within the film, reciting Armitage's powerful words which capture firstly her character and then, almost unbearingly, the senseless attack and tragic demise. I would argue that the poetry here, and the way it is performed, is far more illustrative, sobering and emotionally effective (and, of course, far more correct) than any filmed depiction of the violence could ever be. There's an impassioned, raw ferocity to the words that grips you, sickens you and ultimately brings you to tears.


I cried a lot in the 45 minutes this film ran for - a fitting and outstanding memorial to a young girl for whom, life was all too brief, but will now I am sure live on forever.


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