Alive and Kicking ★★★½

The Play's The Thing Project

This classic Screen One is a hard hitting drama about drug addiction and rehabilitation from the pen of actor/writer Al Hunter Ashton (Safe, The Firm) based on the excellent work of the Glasgow's Calton Athletic Recovery Group, which has been helping individuals recover from drug and alcohol addiction sine 1985 and, at the time of production, had helped over five hundred kick the habit through their unique abstinence and sports based recovery programme.

Set in Birmingham, Alive and Kicking tells the story of
Stevie 'Smudger' Smith, a drug addict who leads a 'posse' of Black British dealers and gangsters. When his wife gives birth, she decides to stop taking drugs, but Stevie can't give up his habit and ultimately his wife and child are taken away from him with the help of Glaswegian Liam Kane, a hard nosed and unconventional group therapy leader. Despite literally butting heads, Kane convinces Smudger that it's in his own best interests to kick the habit but his friends and former rivals don't seem to want him to break out so easily.

Alive and Kicking possesses what I guess we'd nowadays call a unique selling point which is the casting of two performers normally known for their comedic work as the lead characters. These were Lenny Henry as Smudger and Robbie Coltrane as Liam Kane. As we know now Coltrane went on to star in much more drama, notably Cracker. The creator of that show, Jimmy McGovern, original choice for the equally hard nosed and unconventional psychologist was a 'John Cassavetes type' and had earmarked Robert Lindsay. When Lindsay turned the role down, Granada suggested Coltrane to McGovern's surprise. It was his children, who had seen Alive and Kicking who told him he'd be perfect casting, and the rest is history. Henry is less known/respected for his dramatic chops on TV (he's played Othello on the stage to some acclaim) but this is a very fine performance, convincing as both a ruthless 'soulja' and a desperate addict hiding behind a cocky, argumentative facade.

Filling out the rest of the cast are Annabelle Apsion as Smudger's partner, Jane Horrocks as a tragic junkie and prostitute, Paul Barber as a local football coach and a familiar 90s face, Imogen Boorman as a well meaning but naive colleague of Coltrane's Kane. Spare a thought for Boorman who we've subsequently come to discover has her own addictions and issues that cause her to hurt those closest to her. This article explains why she's no longer a regular presence on our screens.

Alive and Kicking was repeated several times in the 90s but has subsequently disappeared from our screens like many of the great Screen One films. It's currently available to view on YouTube but with a caption plastered across the middle of the screen throughout. I might try and upload my copy, actually.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here