“What if I don’t like the guy I am now, bro” says Bosco (Malcolm Kamulete). “You have to learn to like him ‘cause you’re stuck with him” says Rusty (Keiren Hamilton-Amos). Watching family dynamics play out on screen never goes out of fashion and BBC’s latest drama Champion is proof of that.
A love letter to South London, Champion is the first TV project written by Candice Carty-Williams, author of the 2019 novel Queenie, which will also be released as a TV drama on Channel 4 later this year. Champion tells the story of the titular family, focusing mostly on the Champion siblings, rapper Bosco and his sister Vita (Déja J Bowens) as they battle with their sense of duty to their family and their own musical success.
When the series starts, Bosco is fresh out of prison and trying to make his comeback. But it’s not easy as the police seem to be at every corner, and his past prison life seems to be consuming him. The lasting impact of going to prison turns Bosco into a person he doesn’t know if he can like, let alone deal with. Bosco’s struggling mental state sees him also struggle to make music and contributes to him having his sister Vita writing some of his best songs.
Vita, a talented creative in her own right, has been brought up to practically be an employee by everyone around her including her own mum and dad. Vita works for her parents and writes songs for her brother about how great Black women are, all while never getting an ounce of recognition or being able to have her own dreams. But when her best friend Honey (Ray BLK) brings her into an opportunity that gives her the potential to be successful in her own right, the already chaotic Champion family dynamic reaches new heights as a much bigger sibling rivalry begins. In Vita’s own words “Well, it’s Champion v Champion now. So, get ready.”
Champion delivers punches with its storytelling as it draws on British culture that we all can’t help but relate to, from the themes of Black male mental health to the exploitative nature of the music industry and sometimes of family. It highlights the complexity of family conflict that if not dealt with, can spill out onto even those outside the family as seen with Aria’s partner Lennox (Karl Collins) and Bosco’s best friend, Memet (Kerim Hassan) who suffer because of their closeness to the Champions.
The eight-episode series reminds us of the great work female writers are doing in television at the moment, as the show excellently depicts Black womanhood which sees women struggle to put themselves first as their needs and dreams are continually pushed to the bottom of the pile by those around them. The musical series also depicts British life through having Memet wear a Grenfell solidarity T-shirt, and through music, helmed by music executives Grime artist Ghetts and BBC Sound of 2017 winner Ray BLK.
Black British TV drama such as Top Boy and Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films, are skilled at depicting generational trauma and this new musical drama is no different. The show captures the intensity of the pain experienced by Aria (Nadine Marshall) and Beres (Ray Fearon) to the point they pass it onto their children through their actions. It is truly heart-breaking to watch, but how Marshall and Fearon bring these characters to life is remarkable. The complexity of Aria’s feelings as she remains supportive of her son regardless of his actions, while also having complex feelings towards her daughter, takes viewers on a rollercoaster of parental expectations especially when contrasted with the often deceitful Beres.
Champion was originally released in 2023 on the BBC in the UK, and like Top Boy before it, found a resurgence on Netflix. While there have been comparisons between the two, these comparisons are in many ways reductive to the individual shows which have different messages and different impacts. Bosco actor Kamulete was the male lead in both Champion and Top Boy: Summerhouse where he played Ra’Nell, a boy forced to adultify when his mother requires inpatient treatment for depression. The pressure to provide is a theme in both Top Boy and Champion which Kamulete evidently shines at depicting, but that’s where the similarities stop.
Champion does have elements of other shows. The catchy music choices have it feeling like a British version of Empire, the fact the Champion family always loves to make a scene in public no matter the occasion brings back memories of Succession, with a sprinkle of Top Boy-esque realism as we go through the different areas of London, Birmingham, and Jamaica. However, to only compare Champion or deem it a show to fill the gap left by others is also reductive as it breathes new life into the British television landscape in a way that hasn’t been done before. Top Boy aimed to educate viewers on societal issues and topics at the heart of communities on estates. While Champion does have some elements of this, the main themes of this show focus on Black womanhood, the mental health of recent prison leavers, and family dynamics.
One of the most compelling elements of Champion is witnessing Bosco’s mental health play out through every episode. While viewers won’t always love Bosco, the writing allows us to consistently remain sympathetic with his struggles as someone who has recently left prison and is struggling with the ideas of duty and expectations. The moments where we witness the extent of Bosco’s anxiety and paranoia may seem like small moments in the grand scheme of the show, but they’re impactful moments that make his story memorable.
While Champion may suffer from some pacing issues at times, the drama heats up with every episode as secrets are unlocked. The twists and turns leading up to a heart-breaking betrayal in the final episode, from one of the worst characters on TV since Cersei on Game of Thrones, should confirm that this show should not end with season one. Champion still has so many more stories to tell.
Champion is available to stream on Netflix now.
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