sat 13/07/2024

You Don't Know Me, BBC One review - true love meets inner-city crime wave | reviews, news & interviews

You Don't Know Me, BBC One review - true love meets inner-city crime wave

You Don't Know Me, BBC One review - true love meets inner-city crime wave

Adaptation of Imran Mahmood's novel is strongly cast but slightly preposterous

Hero (Samuel Adewunmi) with Jamil (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva)

I sympathised with the prosecuting barrister when she put it to the court that the accused, a man called Hero (Samuel Adewunmi), was “using his closing speech to construct a work of fiction”.

This was a crafty meta-joke. You Don’t Know Me itself is a dramatic fiction adapted from the novel by Imran Mahmood, and Hero’s decision to defend himself at his own murder trial found him standing up in court and giving an actorly rendition of his own version of the plot.

I liked it better than the prosecution’s version – is the law really just a story-telling contest? – even though Hero seemed to be rambling on for hours, without a hint of an interruption from the prosecutor. Not even that old standby, “he’s making speeches, m’lud”, which the judge couldn’t, in all conscience, have denied. The jury gazed at Hero as though they’d found themselves unwitting participants in a mind-control experiment.

So, you could hardly accuse it of being realistic, but two episodes in (out of four), You Don’t Know Me is beginning to exert a substantial narrative grip. Hero – it isn’t clear if that’s his name, or merely a rather glib way of identifying him as the central character – is a South London car salesman accused of murdering a local drug dealer called Jamil (played with some subtlety by Roger Jean Nsengiyumva), and the incriminating evidence against him laid out at the beginning of Sunday’s episode one seemed overwhelming. He had the victim’s blood under his fingernails, his phone was found at the murder scene, the murder weapon was found in his flat, he had gunshot residue on his clothing etc – it was so glaringly obvious that he’d done it that he must be innocent.

You Don't Know Me, BBC OneWhat makes the show intriguing is its not-always-feasible mixture of dreamy romanticism and street-level grunge and squalor, as if chunks of Top Boy had somehow got mixed up with Pretty Woman. Despite his geezerish car-flogging sales patter, Hero is really a home-loving fellow who’d like nothing better than to settle down with a good woman. It seems he has chanced upon the latter when he spots the winsome Kyra (Sophie Wilde) on a bus. Admittedly there is something a little stalker-ish about the way he tracks her movements and engineers “accidental” encounters, but true love ensues. Even though Kyra seems to have no family or friends, and spends all her spare time ploughing through an endless supply of books (she’s emphatically not a Kindle girl), Hero is floating on a blissful Cloud Nine. The way Kyra is eagerly embraced by his sister Bless (Bukky Bakray) and mother Abebi (Yetunde Oduwole) makes it look like love-bird nirvana.

Not so fast, Mr Hero. Kyra suddenly disappears, and a distraught Hero morphs disturbingly into a lone vigilante, tracking down his inamorata amid vicious gangs and snarling pimps in Camden Town. He even gets Jamil to help him buy a gun, though this brings a glimmer of comic relief. As part of the deal, he has to write Jamil’s college essay entitled “Consumer Confidence and Online Reviewing”, Jamil being too preoccupied with running his criminal empire to do it himself.

The jarring twists of fate and gobsmacking personality-shifts of the protagonists are (if we’re honest) a bit daft, but the piece is kept airborne by convincing performances from Nsengiyumva and Adewunmi in particular. Hero’s poignant soliloquy after he found himself Jamil’s prisoner and facing extreme danger was indecently heart-rending. Also, the casting of mostly black actors feels absolutely right for the story and the setting, in contrast with the BBC’s usual clunking ethnicity-and-gender-by-committee approach.

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