Star studded cast in ‘My Name Is Leon’ drama

Friday: My Name Is Leon - (BBC Two, 9pm)

Incredibly moving story of nine year-old Leon
Incredibly moving story of nine year-old Leon

Every now and then, the TV schedules serve up something that is more than just something to gawp at while slumped on the sofa of an evening, and this one-off drama, based on Kit de Waal’s bestselling book, is just such a small screen jewel.

Not only does it mark The Last Tree writer and director Shola Amoo’s first television screenplay, it’s also the TV directorial debut of Lynette Linton, best known as artistic director of the Bush Theatre.

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As if that wasn’t enough of a pedigree, My Name Is Leon also counts Sir Lenny Henry CBE among its executive producers and cast.

Set in 1980s Birmingham against the backdrop of the race riots taking place at the time, it tells the uplifting and incredibly moving story of nine year-old Leon, a mixed-race boy, and his quest to reunite his family after being taken into care and separated from his blonde and blue-eyed baby brother.

Told through the young lad’s eyes, the drama chronicles his journey, full of energy and hopefulness despite the hardships he encounters, and witnesses the touching relationship between him and his foster carer Maureen.

With his favourite action figure Sergeant Smith by his side, Leon’s adventure teaches him valuable lessons about himself, the world, love, and what family – in its various guises – really means. Balancing gritty realism with a gentle charm and humour, it also explores issues of identity and belonging.

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The tale comes to the small screen after Henry, the former stand-up comedian-turned-award-winning stage actor, snapped up the rights to the novel he adored.

He explains: “I discovered the book whilst performing the audiobook and was so moved on the first day’s work that I rang my office at lunchtime and said ‘we’ve got to try and do this’. Thankfully after five years, we’ve pulled it together with a great writer, director, cast and crew. I can’t wait to see the results.”

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Newcomers to Kit de Waal’s tale may be interested to know the sense of authenticity in My Name Is Leon comes from her own experience: she spent many years working in family and criminal law, and wrote training manuals about fostering and adoption, while her mum also fostered children.

Former EastEnders star Malachi Kirby says of the production: “It’s rare, in my experience, for projects such as this to be made and even more rare to be seen, so I’m really excited and grateful to be a part of it,” while Monica Dolan enthuses: “Rarely do you get the chance even to read a script of such heart, soul and wisdom as Shola’s, and it could not have come at a more appropriate time.

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“I am thrilled and privileged to be working with such a great cast and to be part of Lynette Linton’s TV debut.”

“This film is a real challenge for me,” says fellow cast member Olivia Williams. “The subject matter has deep resonance, and my character is both grotesque and very real. I’m so excited to be involved.”

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The sparkling cast also includes Christopher Eccleston, Poppy Lee Friar, Shobna Gulati and, in his TV debut, Cole Martin in the leading role of Leon.