Somewhere Boy review – a beautiful, rare find that is in a world of its own | Drama
What a sad, beautiful, clever, wrenching series Somewhere Boy (Channel 4) is. It is the kind of drama that rewards knowing as little as possible about it, as it unfurls the story slowly and with great care. But the bare bones are that Danny (an excellent Lewis Gribben) has spent most of his life cloistered in a rundown house in the middle of the countryside, with his father, Steve. Steve is trying to keep his son safe from the “monsters” outside, but when Danny turns 18, he is wrenched out of his home and sent, or more accurately taken, back into the real world.
Somewhere Boy is one of those rare dramas that manages to hold several themes in its hands and examine each one with equal consideration. It is about starting again and fitting in; trauma and abuse; family and love; and monsters, both figurative and literal. Danny ends up living with Steve’s sister Sue and her family, and at first, we see him adjusting to life as an 18-year-old newborn. He asks blunt questions. He doesn’t know he should knock before going into people’s bedrooms. And, crucially, he doesn’t yet understand why he was kept away from the world for such a long time.
This lends it the slowburn satisfaction of a really good thriller, though it is much more than that. Every episode, Danny learns more about his past. We see this in flashbacks to his isolated upbringing, in the stories that Steve tells Danny and himself to keep the illusion going. And we see it in Danny’s nightmares, depicted with painterly horror, as a monster-made-real haunts a darker version of Danny’s already dark world.
If this sounds dreary, it isn’t. It is about grief and bad choices, but it is often drily funny, too – not laugh out loud, roll around on the floor funny, but it has a raised eyebrow at the absurdity of it all. Danny is chaperoned around his new life by his reluctant cousin, Aaron (Ladhood’s Samuel Bottomley). In Danny’s former world, he found comfort in classic Hollywood, watching films with happy endings, listening to old jazz such as Mildred Bailey and country singers like Marty Robbins. His new world is brash, bright, crude. He discovers sex and porn via Aaron, which leads to a conversation about what a boy with minimal cultural references might have stashed away in his proverbial wank bank.
This isn’t just Danny’s story, and writer/creator Pete Jackson has given each character their own levels of depth and richness. Bottomley is particularly strong as Aaron, shy and awkward himself, seemingly friendless but desperate to fit in. He is a pitch -perfect depiction of teenage discomfort. Trying on a suit in a shop is excruciating for him. Watching the football with his friends is painful; he keeps trying to get it right, and no matter what he does, he gets it wrong. This is painful a good time for stories about male friendships, from Ladhood to Big Boys, and Aaron and Danny’s tentative partnership can comfortably be added to that list. Lisa McGrillis is brilliant, too, as Sue, whose life is upended by her brother’s decisions and the arrival of this strange young man into her family. The social worker who comes to see Danny for 10 minutes a week points out that he is lucky to have her support.
Somewhere Boy comes from Clerkenwell Films, which also made the similarly idiosyncratic The End of the F***ing World. Like its predecessor, this has a big, bold soundtrack, with music playing a crucial role, flowing in to block out the hard stuff, bubbling up to see out a particularly dramatic scene with style. It exists within that currently popular vaguely timeless era. The cars are from the 80s and 90s, but there are smartphones and big TVs. The ambient background soundtrack is often discordant, and it is all washed in a kind of retro grey-greeny-blue colour. It has a strong sense of its own visual identity, and adds up to a feeling that what we are watching is both mundane and eerie.
All eight episodes are stripped across the week in pairs, though the whole thing is available to watch in one go: given the concise, neat nature of its half-hour episodes, this would be very easy to do. After the initial shock of Danny’s re-entry, in which he has to learn what to do and how to be, the series gets its teeth into its thriller side, posing questions about culpability and revenge. It also dips into rural gothic, family drama, coming-of-age saga and even ghost story. Ultimately, though, this is in a world of its own, and Somewhere Boy is something special.