sun 16/06/2024

In the Long Run, Sky 1 review - bright start for multiracial comedy | reviews, news & interviews

In the Long Run, Sky 1 review - bright start for multiracial comedy

In the Long Run, Sky 1 review - bright start for multiracial comedy

Idris Elba revisits 1980s Hackney with a deft comic touch

Not hackneyed: Walter (Idris Elba) and Bagpipes (Bill Bailey)

It’s quite bold to create a multiracial comedy set in Hackney in the early Eighties, a not especially amusing period of riots, the Falklands War and Thatcherism. Happily, Hackney boy Idris Elba has managed it with a wry eye and a light comic touch.

This Hackney isn’t the lethal drug-saturated combat zone portrayed in Top Boy, but an altogether more genial place where black, white and Asian residents rub along fairly comfortably, and manage to find ways to cope with non-PC attitudes. “We were thicker-skinned back then,” Elba has commented.

In the Long Run, Sky 1Naturally, it’s Elba’s character Walter Easmon who’s at the centre of the action, along with his wife Agnes (Madeline Appiah) and their son Kobna (Sammy Kamara, who starred in Damilola: Our Loved Boy), a sunny character despite his sometimes life-threatening bouts of asthma (one of Elba’s own real-life traits). A recurring device, neatly filling out some detail of the family’s immigrant background, is Walter sitting and either reading letters from or writing to his mother in Sierra Leone. It’s from her latest epistle that he receives news of the impending arrival of his younger brother Valentine, who their mother thinks will benefit from a stint in the metropolis (pictured above, Madeline Appiah and Sammy Kamara).

Sighing tolerantly, Walter acquiesces to the arrival of his ebullient sibling under the roof of his none-too-spacious council flat (the new guest means Kobna gets bumped out of his bedroom). However, while Valentine is prone to using up an indecently large percentage of the available oxygen, food, bathwater and especially alcohol, he brings rumbustious dynamism to the drama. Played with outsized self-confidence by Jimmy Akingbola (perhaps owing just a little to Eddie Murphy’s farcical exchange student from Cameroon in Trading Places), he devours London in enormous chunks. He receives a bit of education about prevailing conditions from Kobna, like the moment where they’re watching the Brixton riots on TV. “Sometimes the police search people’s homes and accidentally kill them,” Kobna explains. “The neighbours get upset and challenge them to a street fight.”

No matter. Within days of arrival Valentine has landed himself a job DJing in a local pub, where he entrances the punters with his life-threatening cocktail the “Naughty Bastard”, and soon finds ad hoc work as an electrician. He enlists Walter’s upstairs neighbour Bagpipes (Bill Bailey, playing a man who looks like he’s got an exhausting quantity of mileage on the clock) to help fit new romantic lighting to the house called “Auntys Garden”. Turns out this is the local brothel, and Mags, the madame, recognises the panic-stricken Bagpipes as an old customer.

In the Long Run, Sky 1The relationship between Bagpipes and his wife Kirsty (Kellie Shirley, pictured left) is going to develop into one of the show’s main structural supports. They’re a textbook example of the unexamined life, and have somehow never managed to have an adult conversation about how, as a white couple, they’ve been bringing up a black daughter, Melissa. “You are Melissa’s daddy, no matter what anybody says,” Walter reassures the hangdog Bagpipes.

The formula devised by Elba in collaboration with writers Claire Downes, Stuart Lane and Ian Jarvis comprises a dollop of comedy, a dash of pathos, some smart observation and a bucket of slapstick. Not to mention a raft of Eighties pop songs on the soundtrack (Dexys, The Clash, The Cure, The Police, Eddy Grant and many more), which add their own atmospheric running commentary. Lob in a sparky and tightly-knit cast, and this may indeed go the distance.


Elba's formula comprises a dollop of comedy, a dash of pathos, some smart observation and a bucket of slapstick


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters