Sunday 25 February 2018

Netflix drama grips, but Lenny warms the heart

Lenny Henry in Danny and the Human Zoo
Lenny Henry in Danny and the Human Zoo

John Boland

You can binge on all of the 10 episodes of Narcos that have just been made available by Netflix, but that's not how some of us watch television and so I contented myself this week with the opening instalment.

In the event I felt rewarded and will doubtless return to this tense and violent fact-based drama about the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was finally gunned down by police in 1993.

The series is narrated in voiceover, informatively if sometimes ponderously, by Boyd Holbrook, who plays US drug enforcement agent Steve Murphy, and the first episode really only came to life when Escobar, played with quiet intensity by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, entered the scene in an unnerving confrontation with local police.

The episode had much to say about the growth of Colombia's cocaine trade and the ease with which the first generation of drug mules made their trips to Miami, but it was the dramatic set pieces that really grabbed the viewer, with Luis Guzman reliably unsettling as another drug lord.

There were a few unsettling moments, too, in Danny and the Human Zoo (BBC1), a Lenny Henry drama based on his own upbringing in the English Midlands, but the prejudice encountered by young Danny (a version of Henry and winningly played by Kascion Franklin) was counteracted by the loving family life from which he made his bid for fame.

Henry (inset) himself was very affecting in the role of Danny's taciturn father, while Cecilia Noble was exuberantly good as the no-nonsense flamboyant mother. And the 1970s were beautifully evoked.

This was a drama that wore its heart on its sleeve but that also didn't make light of the serious racial obstacles facing its young hero, not least when hired to participate in a summer show in which all the white cast performed in blackface and against which he finally and heroically rebelled.

Henry, who has grown as an actor in recent years, showed himself here to be just as good a writer as a performer. I liked this film a lot.

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