In Review

Anne review: Hillsborough drama is almost too painful to watch

ITV series tells the story of Anne Williams’s battle for justice

ITV’s four-part drama Anne serves as a reminder that even if we “all know about Hillsborough” – the 1989 FA Cup semi-final disaster in which 97 Liverpool fans were killed – “we didn’t live it, and then relive it, viscerally, relentlessly, as the bereaved did”, said Barbara Ellen in The Observer. Written by Kevin Sampson, who was at the game, the series follows Anne Williams (Maxine Peake), the mother of 15-year-old victim Kevin, as she fights, year after year, to “extract the truth from a swirling miasma of misinformation, police mistakes, cover-ups and lies”. Williams is living a “waking nightmare”, and Peake brilliantly captures her transformation from ordinary Liverpool mum to tenacious battler for truth. 

It would have been easy for the series to slide into “inspirational hagiography”, said Dan Einav in the FT. Instead, Anne shows us how Williams’s relationships, health and very identity were eroded by her “single-minded pursuit of justice”. The pacing could have been sped up a bit, and the writing sometimes lacks sharpness, but the heartrending power of many of the scenes more than makes up for these limitations. 

This is a fine drama, said Camilla Long in The Sunday Times – “tight and knotty and well acted”. But it’s so painful it’s virtually “unwatchable”. From the moment Kevin fails to come home, it’s clear that we’re about to watch a “shattered woman” facing a death sentence, without being able to actually die. I hate to ask, but isn’t this just a bit too much for cold nights in January?

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