Somewhere Boy review: gentle and tender drama with Lewis Gribben is the best Channel 4 series of the year

Lewis Gribben as Danny and Samuel Bottomley as Aaron in Somewhere Boy, wearing suits and sat in the garden (Credit: Channel 4) Lewis Gribben as Danny and Samuel Bottomley as Aaron in Somewhere Boy, wearing suits and sat in the garden (Credit: Channel 4)
Lewis Gribben as Danny and Samuel Bottomley as Aaron in Somewhere Boy, wearing suits and sat in the garden (Credit: Channel 4) | Channel 4
Only Lewis Gribben could’ve played Danny, at once a vulnerable, tender performance, and one with a single-minded determination to it

Danny Harris has always lived inside. He watches black-and-white films with his dad, the television casting a flickering glow that illuminates the room; they listen to old records, dancing together and laughing; they speak in silly voices and dress up to celebrate birthdays. It’s a secluded, isolated life, but it’s also one Danny is happy to live – because his dad protects him, keeps him safe, teaches him how to survive. They have each other, and that’s all either of them really needs. Because there are monsters outside, and they killed his mother.

Somewhere Boy – so named because Danny isn’t really from anywhere, not a place or even really a time – begins when that life collapses in on itself. Danny’s whole existence shatters in an instant, and he’s forced to take his first tentative steps into an entirely unfamiliar world; separated from his father and sent to live with his aunt and her children, Danny begins to adjust to experiences he could never have conceptualised before. Growing up, his only exposure to the outside world was a pizza advert tracked in on his dad’s shoe; now, he’s being introduced to a world of karaoke and pubs and internet porn and garden parties.

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More than anything else, Somewhere Boy is concerned with ideas of love. Danny always insists his dad loved him, that his dad was protecting him, that his dad would never lie to him; part of the series is about gradually taking that apart, gradually illustrating the scale of Danny’s father’s abuse and how deeply those scars run. When he goes to live with his aunt and cousin Aaron, Danny is too frightened to leave the house, and insistent on keeping the people he starts to care about close to him in a way not unlike his father – it’s a little reminiscent of a former cult member undergoing a process of deprogramming, in a way.

What’s interesting about Somewhere Boy, though, is the space it allows for complexity within that. Danny’s father Steve is, undeniably, abusive – monstrous, even, maybe the only real monster in Danny’s life. But by the same measure, Somewhere Boy always makes an effort to root that within a plainly genuine kind of love and affection; as writer Pete Jackson recently explained in an interview, “Danny has had [an] emotionally engaged, available, tactile, loving father. [We wanted] to create a world where we can blur that line between love and abuse, and create a world one might at points want to return to”. The result is something much knottier, much more nuanced, and in turn a more challenging drama to engage with.

Rory Keenan as Steve with Samuel McKenna as young Danny, kneeling to look him in the eye (Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh/Channel 4/BBC)Rory Keenan as Steve with Samuel McKenna as young Danny, kneeling to look him in the eye (Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh/Channel 4/BBC)
Rory Keenan as Steve with Samuel McKenna as young Danny, kneeling to look him in the eye (Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh/Channel 4/BBC) | PARISA TAGHIZADEH/Channel 4/BBC

Only Lewis Gribben could’ve played Danny. It’s at once a very vulnerable, very tender performance, and one with a certain single-minded determination about it; there’s a real sense of history to Gribben’s performance, which manages to capture a sense of unstudied childlike innocence and a mature-beyond-his-years preparedness to confront monsters, a pointed and deliberate mess of contradictions. That kind of outside and adjacent quality is both funny – Danny cuts through all the strange assumptions that underpin day to day ‘normal’ life with an unusual clarity – and entirely heartbreaking. Gribben is remarkable in Somewhere Boy, making a complex and demanding part look effortless.

Much the same is true of his co-stars though, with Rory Keenan as Danny’s father Steve and Samuel Bottomley as his cousin Aaron emerging as particular standouts. Keenan is seen only in flashback, raising Danny in their isolated little house; there are moments when he becomes quite frightening, all affection evaporating in a second to become a flash of hot rage. At the same time – and it’s not quite right to say Keenan humanises Steve, exactly – but at the same time, there’s a real well of sadness to Steve, a bone-deep grief that underscores everything he does. He never quite cuts a sympathetic figure, exactly, but in a way there’s something as tragic about him as Danny.

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Samuel Bottomley, meanwhile, offers an interesting foil to Lewis Gribben: cousin Aaron is, in some ways, as dislocated from the world as Danny is, struggling to fit in and never quite feeling at ease within himself. The relationship between the two of them is, in many ways, the heart of the show, and seeing the two of them grow and change together is one of the more rewarding aspects of Somewhere Boy. Again, it’s all about those ideas of love and family – Danny’s relationship with Steve contrasted against Aaron’s with his stepfather Paul (Johann Meyers) and his father Ben (Hywel Morgan), both perfectly cast – that lends the whole show this gentle, tender quality.

Somewhere Boy, ultimately, is perhaps Channel 4’s most impressive dramatic offering of the year so far: smart and thoughtful, visually very stylish, enlivened by remarkable performances, and rendered with real care and nuance.

Somewhere Boy begins on Channel 4 at 10pm on Sunday 16 October, with all episodes available on All4 as a boxset and subsequent episodes airing nightly in the days following. I’ve seen all eight episodes before writing this review.

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