After watching the cast swear, shout and generally slap each each other about for twenty minutes, I had finally settled upon an anti-hero to root for in Martina Cole’s The Runaway (I gave up on trying to find a hero somewhere between the boxing match and the domestic violence of the prologue..) Admittedly, young Eamonn had killed a man but it was a crime of passion, so I overlooked it. Then he went and forced himself on his bird, sending me back to square one at the same time. While this opening episode of Sky’s six-part adaptation was gripping, it felt a tiny bit removed… like I was looking in on a goldfish bowl of scowling misery and emotionless knife-crime. It says something when a character can rape his girlfriend and still represent the moral compass of a show, but then this is an exceptionally bleak and pitiless vision of 1960s London. Mothers are shopping their daughters to the police and there’s more wife-beating than you would have found at the Turner household after Ike had been on the Stella.
This story of a young teenage couple growing up around gangsters and hookers is entertaining on some levels, but the characters are such remorseless bastards that you wonder just where we viewers are supposed to approach this little number from. Jack O’Connell is fine as the sexually confused and downtrodden anti-hero, but this isn’t the most demanding role he’s had, essentially he’s simply returning to Harry Brown territory (now that’s how you mix strong violence with viewer involvement). Keith Allen is also fine if utterly stereotypical as the fop-haired urban baron who employs Eamonn after his revenge killing, but as with many of the other characters he is as viscous as he is rudimentary.
The closing scenes of this blood-marinaded opening episode see Eamonn’s love interest carted off into care and her mum (who’s rather partial to a bit of violence herself..) banged up. As you may have predicted, the police aren’t quite upstanding members of the community either. “If I say you’re going down, you’re going down!” says one detective after he advises Eamonn’s step-mum that she’s being framing her for the murder her daughter committed. To put that into perspective, the young girl in question is by far the most pleasant inhabitant of this godforsaken London borough. I have suspicions that even the social worker is a nasty piece of work.