Four deaths, all in Barking in the East End of London, all young men, all overdoses from GHB. Yet, in spite of an extraordinary amount of overlapping evidence, the local police failed to link their deaths.
The first, Anthony Walworth, a fashion student, was an occasional escort. He was found outside the flat of Stephen Port (Stephen Merchant) who, having initially denied any knowledge, was eventually charged with perverting the course of justice and served eight months in prison. Two and a half years later, in November 2016, Port was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of four young men (along with multiple other charges of rape and sexual assault), three of whom were found in an almost identical spot. Yet it was only after the Metropolitan police became involved that the links to Port were made.
Four Lives is the exploration of the impact of the incompetence of police enquiries into Anthony’s death and the resulting murder of three more victims. With more than a year between the first and second (the period Port was in prison), the focus of the three-part miniseries is that of the Hull-based Walworths (and Anthony’s mother, Sara – Sheridan Smith – in particular) in northern England.
It’s a tragic litany of errors, insensitivity, mismanagement and homophobic assumptions based on the sexuality of the victims and use of GHB. Four Lives is a respectful exposé with powerful performances from Sheridan Smith and a chilling Stephen Merchant in particular and avoids melodrama or morbid voyeurism. It does get bogged down in repetition and its own sense of ordinariness at times (Port is a dullard and complete oddball) but Four Lives remains an emotive, inexplicable sadness.