Lee Ingleby plays 17 year old David, in this early four-part drama from Skins creator Bryan Elsley. Nature Boy premiered on the BBC in the year 2000 and is a beautifully powerful rites of passage drama framed by a story concerning the love of nature.
Ever since his dad (Paul McGann) abandoned him David has retained his father’s love of nature – the only thing he can claim to have of his parent except some vague and incomplete memories. Those memories are driving him forward, coming to him unbidden as they do as he walks in the wild areas he was shown as a small boy. And as they recur his desire to know more increases. His mother is local but refuses to see him, and there is the underlying sense that dark secrets and past events are being kept hidden.
We first meet David, now living in foster care, as he makes his way home after staying out all night at the local nature reserve – somewhere he spends all of his spare time. He’s not doing great at school, trying to keep himself quiet and unseen in a class full of unruly and violent kids. Those kids themselves are in thrall to some local hooligans who hang outside the school gates supplying drugs and claiming sexual favours. When trying to protect fellow foster home resident Anne-marie (Vicky Binns), David causes the full force of their wrath to fall upon his precious nature reserve which ultimately causes him to quit town and go looking for his long lost father. His further adventures from home lead him into love, hardship and environmental campaigning as he tries to find his place in a world that doesn’t seem to want his love of the natural world.
Nature Boy is superb. The acting and writing work to brilliant and enthralling effect. Ingleby’s performance at the centre of the drama is just one of a thoroughly brilliant cast which includes Joanne Froggatt, Mark Benton, Kellie Bright and Lesley Sharp. Directed by future feature film director Joe Wright, the treatment of the difficult material is beautifully handled, with twists and turns and surprises which keep the audience on the edge of their seat. It is moving and startling and rings horribly true. In what, in the wrong hands, could veer dangerously close to melodrama the action is sensitively told in a way that is constantly gripping. Everything about the production is right, from the interesting use of camera angles to the excellent and dramatically astonishing special effects (never before has a “no animals were harmed” notice in the end credits been more welcome).
This is nature in tooth and claw, beautiful and bloody. And it’s a great watch.
Nature Boy is out now on DVD, and is very much worth 240 minutes of your time.