In a sea of police dramas, Four lives (BBC One) stands out. This is because the police are the bad guys rather than the heroes. It’s real drama about the botched investigation into Stephen Port, a serial killer who murdered four young men between 2014 and 2015.
Of course, Port is the evildoer, played with chilling banality by Stephen Merchant. But he is not the center of attention. The story told here is about the victims and how justice was delivered only because their families and friends were determined to uncover truths the police made no effort to find. This is not a dramatic surge on the part of the program makers. Last month, an inquest jury ruled that Metropolitan Police misconduct likely contributed to the deaths of the last three victims.
Four Lives begins a day after ITV’s Anne drama series, and there are parallels. The two focus on a grieving mother fighting for justice for her son: Maxine Peake as the mother of a teenager killed in the Hillsborough disaster at Anne, and Sheridan Smith here as the mother of ‘Anthony Walgate, Port’s first victim.
Smith’s grief, as Sarah, is a complex thing. It unfolds over the three episodes: we see it stunned, numb, angry, helpless. Her behavior doesn’t always make her sympathetic. Smith brings a humanity and reality to the role that few other actresses could match.