After gaining approval for the overall concept of Big George is Dead from Channel 4, young independent filmmaker Henry Martin approached noted writer Michael Abbensetts to provide a script. The resulting production is an entertaining piece which combines social observation with a thriller milieu, evocatively photographed by Barry Ackroyd.
The funeral of Big George reunites old friends Boogie and Tony. Boogie now lives in a council flat and is angered by Tony's reappearance after fourteen years. Boogie's initial hostility towards his now-wealthy former friend calms once Tony promises to return Boogie's share of their gang's former proceeds, and the two men slowly reconnect on a night out in West London which forms the core of the narrative. Along the way, they explore the changing face of London and contrast their scams with a dangerous new generation of young black criminals. Boogie's sadness at growing older is rooted in migrant experience, as he claims that he never intended to grow old in Britain and believes his generation threw away the opportunities that arrival in Britain promised.
Migrant experience is further explored by the film's melancholy ending after Tony's underlying motives regarding his son Andrew are revealed. Boogie had married Tony's ex-girlfriend, Yvonne, and Andrew believes himself to be Boogie's son. Although Boogie appeared to be trapped, it is Tony who misses the lifestyle enjoyed by Boogie's family. Tony questions the belief of West Indians that they can leave city life in Britain and easily readjust to life back home.
Big George is Dead is built upon excellent, multi-layered performances by its two leads, Norman Beaton and Rudolph Walker. Abbensetts had worked with them both on Empire Road (BBC, 1977-78), with Walker on Roadrunner (ITV, tx. 5/7/1977), and with Beaton on several other productions including Black Christmas (BBC, tx. 20/12/1977). Abbensetts later noted his pleasure in providing Walker with a tougher role than the stereotypes he felt that Walker was often offered, and the actor himself later expressed his pride in the role, combined with sadness that society had forced the existence of an all-black independent production company such as Kuumba Productions.
Beaton and Walker demonstrate the range that was too often neglected by television drama's treatment of black actors. They skilfully capture Boogie and Tony's complex relationship, melancholy about ageing, comic energy, proud masculinity, residual cool toughness and, ultimately, the emotional undercurrents which provide the film's heart.