Photo: Den of Geek
Photo: Den of Geek

Kit de Waal’s tender novel My Name Is Leon will soon receive the onscreen treatment, as the award-winning tale is being adapted for BBC One.

Set in the Eighties, it follows a young, mixed-race boy named Leon who has been taken into care and is on a mission to bring his family back together. A touching and moving story, it is sure to be as memorable on screen as it is on the page.

When is My Name Is Leon on BBC One?

Filming for the single-part drama is currently taking place in Birmingham. It’s not yet known when it will hit our TV screens, but we’ll update this page as soon as we know.

My Name is Leon: The Plot

Photo: The British Blacklist
Photo: The British Blacklist

If you’ve read Kit de Waal’s internationally best-selling novel, you’ll already be aware that it’s a tale full of emotion, heart and triumph set against the race riots of the 1980s.

It is set in the early 1980s and, like What Maisie Knew and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is told through the perspective of a child who is keenly observant, although we understand more of what is happening around him than he does. In this case, the narrator is eight-year-old Leon, who becomes a foster child. The novel begins with the birth of his baby brother, Jake. Immediately we realise that there is something wrong with their mother, Carol. Rather than cradle the child she has just given birth to, she leaves the hospital room to have a cigarette. The nurse leaves too and tells Leon, “If he starts crying, you come and fetch me. OK?” Leon is left on his own with Jake. The novel is full of quietly shocking moments like this, which reveal how much child protection has moved on from 30 years ago.

The brothers have different, and absent, fathers. While Carol and Jake are white, Leon is mixed race. His father, Byron, is in prison, while Jake’s father, Tony, has rejected Carol and their child. Home is on an estate near a dual carriageway. Carol often leaves her boys alone in the flat when she goes out.

When Carol has a nervous breakdown and falls into a catatonic state in her bedroom that lasts for days, Leon tries to look after himself and baby Jake alone. De Waal touchingly describes Leon’s delight and wonder at his little brother: “the baby is like a television. Leon can’t stop watching him and all his baby movements.”

It’s hard not to feel great sympathy for Leon, a vulnerable child who bottles everything up and has so little help available to him. The brothers are fostered by Maureen, but when Jake is adopted by another family, Leon loses the little brother he loves and tried so hard to protect. He loses his precious toys when he is taken into care and they are left in the flat. He has already lost his father and mother. When she later turns up for visits, her mental decline is evident. Unsurprisingly, Leon has behavioural problems at school and turns to minor theft.

De Waal skilfully brings her adult characters to life through the perspective of her child protagonist and she bestows great compassion on all her protagonists. Carol is unable to help herself, let alone the two sons she clearly loves. The women who foster Leon are flawed but well-intentioned. The men in the allotment might be a bunch of oddballs, but they become father figures for the little boy who goes to visit them. Ultimately, the novel is uplifting because we see in it a fundamental goodness in the human spirit – And with people other than his blood parents guiding him, we trust that Leon will survive the odds stacked against him.

My Name is Leon: Cast

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Child actor Cole Martin will play lead character Leon in his first TV role. He will be supported by a strong cast, which features Malachi Kirby (Small Axe) – who said of the show: “It’s rare, in my experience, for projects such as this to be made and even more rare to be seen, so I’m really excited and grateful to be a part of it.”

Monica Dolan (A Very English Scandal) also stars. Of being involved, she said: “Rarely do you get the chance even to read a script of such heart, soul and wisdom… And it could not have come at a more appropriate time.”

Other cast members include Olivia Williams (Counterpart) Christopher Eccleston (The A Word), Poppy Lee Friar (Ackley Bridge) and Sir Lenny Henry CBE (The Lord of the Rings).

Who else is involved?

Photo: Penguin Books
Photo: Penguin Books

Screenwriter and director Shola Amoo – whose previous work includes films The Last Tree and A Moving Image – takes the writing reins in this, his first screenplay for TV.

The Bush Theatre’s Lynette Linton will direct, while Lenny Henry is the executive producer. Speaking of his involvement, he said: “I discovered the book whilst performing the audiobook and was so moved on the first day’s work that I rang my office at lunchtime and said, we’ve got to try and do this.

“Thankfully, after five years, we’ve pulled it together with a great writer (Shola Amoo), director (Lynette Linton), cast and crew. I can’t wait to see the results.”

Is there a trailer?

Not yet – but when it’s released, you’ll be able to watch it right here.

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