The new year is still in its infancy, but it does not seem too daring to predict that there will be few performances in the next 12 months that will be as steadfast in emotional intensity as Anne. There will probably also not be many performances that are as heartbreaking in their fidelity to the experience of loss as Maxine Peake‘s turn as Anne Williams – a mother whose teenage son, Kevin, was killed in the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989.
ITV’s new four-part series dramatizes Williams’ tireless efforts to discover the answers to how and why her son and 96 other Liverpool fans lost their lives at a football match. It spans nearly 25 years and follows her campaign as part of a group of grieving family members to reach a ruling that the victims were wrongfully killed by gross police negligence. An initial coroner’s forensic autopsy in 1991 declared the deaths “accidental”, while the media and police continued a false story that the pressure on the plots was born out of racketeering rather than the catastrophic failures of the authorities on the day.
Williams was undoubtedly, and is portrayed here as, an untamable activist in the face of incessant setbacks. But the program never makes us forget that in the first place she was a parent trying one last time to do right by their child. “Maybe for me it’s about Kev,” she says at one point, admitting that she does not always consider herself a crusader for a cause – she is a human, not a hero, and so on. more convincing for that.
Although it would have been easy to slip into inspirational hagiography, Anne is careful to sketch how Williams’ relationships with her husband and children, her health, and her personal identity are gradually erased by her purposeful pursuit of justice. This shows that sadness can be confusing, even paradoxical: to come to terms with the death of a loved one can mean a masochistic immersion in the horrific circumstances in which it arose.
Anne Not surprisingly, it’s a difficult, exhausting viewing experience – one that suffers from an occasional lack of sharpness in writing and tempo. But any restrictions are offset by a number of scenes that affect, not least Anne’s devastating realization that her son is among the dead and later her moment of catharsis when she hears the Hillsborough Independent Panel affirm the police’s liability, just months before her death in 2013. Peake’s performance, in which she inhabits Anne’s sadness and spirit as if it were her own, is as much a privilege as it is a challenge to watch.
All episodes now available on ITV Hub