As we approach the 10th anniversary of the horrific attack that led to her death, BBC Three have released a harrowing one-off film portraying the events that ended in Sophie Lancaster’s brutal murder.
I want to write something different today. Something that matters. Something that means something. I sat down to watch the BBC Three dramatization of Sophie Lancaster’s death, Murdered For Being Different, and I knew I wasn’t in for an easy watch by any means, but I don’t think I could have ever really prepared myself for how the hour-long film made me feel.
‘Murdered For Being Different’ tells the true story of the vicious, hate-motivated attack on 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby, which stemmed from the way they were dressed; they were Goths. After striking up a conversation with a group of strangers at a local petrol station, the friendly young couple – who had met two years previously – went with them to Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Lancashire, where Maltby was singled out in the completely unprovoked attack.
After Maltby and Lancaster spoke with the group and shared their cigarettes among them, five (then) teenage boys launched themselves at Maltby, kicking, punching and stamping on him until he was unconscious. Lancaster, who knelt by his side and cradled his head in her arms – assumedly trying to protect him from any further blows – was then also kicked and stamped upon repeatedly. Their injuries were so severe that both Maltby and Lancaster were left in comas. Maltby awoke a week later with little memory of what took place but, tragically, Lancaster never regained consciousness.
Having followed the story of Sophie Lancaster since my mid-teens (which I will talk more about later), when I saw ‘Murdered For Being Different’ online I was instantly intrigued. However, as I watched the brutally powerful re-telling, the gut-wrenching fact that these events actually happened hit home all over again. Told from the point of view of survivor Robert Maltby – played by Nico Mirallegro (Hollyoaks, My Mad Fat Diary) – factual drama ‘Murdered For Being Different’, interestingly also looks behind the attack and into the lives of Robert Maltby and Sophie Lancaster – played by Abigail Lawrie (The Casual Vacancy) – as a couple.
As the drama starts, a black screen is illuminated with the words ‘this is a true story’ in capitals. Five words made all the more menacing when you know what is to come. The twinkling, fairytale-esque, instrumental of ‘Pure Imagination’ quickly follows: beautiful yet chilling. The audience is then shown snippets of the events to come, ending with the frantic 999 phone-call and sound of sirens.
The film then takes audiences back two years before the attack, depicting the beginning of Maltby and Lancaster’s relationship. From their first meeting at a gig – set to the sound of The Subways’ ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Queen’ – to their first kiss; made all the more tender thanks to the piano version of the Pixies’ track ‘Where Is My Mind’. In another heart-warming scene, viewers see keen artist Maltby painting wings on Lancaster’s back, telling her ‘you’re an angel, you need wings.’ We also see him return home in the early hours of the morning, having travelled to buy Lancaster the final Harry Potter book and walking home in the rain. As the story unfolds it becomes increasingly apparent that their relationship was extremely affectionate and gentle; they were really in love. It shows that at their core they were just people, normal people who wanted to express their individuality in how they dressed.
However, the film also highlighted a darker side of their lives, regularly receiving abuse for their Gothic look: being called names, chased and threatened. The pair chose to rise above it, with Lancaster saying that “hiding means the idiots win.” This attitude is shown excellently at the end of the film as – after saying goodbye to an unresponsive Lawrie – Mirallegro is seen lacing up his boots, re-applying eye-liner to his heavily bruised face, re-adorning himself in his Gothic accessories, and nodding at his reflection before leaving the hospital to walk through Bacup market; refusing to hide himself and who he is.
The story is told in an extremely effective way throughout, using a series of flashbacks and cutaway’s, so upcoming events are hinted at and half-seen before being played in full towards the end. This technique also works to build tension and create a stark, unflinching contrast between the gentle, almost dream-like beginning of their relationship, to the gritty, graphic reconstruction of the disturbing attack that changed Maltby’s life and took Lancaster’s – making it an incredibly hard watch.
At the end of the heart-breaking drama, the sentences received by those involved are flashed up on-screen next to the faces of the respective actors who played them; three of the five young men have since been released from prison, while the other two are currently serving life sentences. Also shown is a frightening statistic: an astonishing 70,000 hate crime incidents were reported only last year in the UK. The highest it’s ever been. The film closes with a selection of images of Maltby and Lancaster together, set to the tune of Placebo’s eerily haunting version of Kate Bush classic ‘Running Up That Hill’ – the lyrics making it even more poignant.
I remember when I first read about this in ‘Kerrang!’ magazine when it happened back in 2007. I was 16. I didn’t know Sophie Lancaster or Robert Maltby but it’s impossible not to be moved by this story. It immediately resonated with me back then because I was also seen as ‘different’. I wore black eye-shadow, listened to heavy rock music, had a Jack Skellington bag shaped like a coffin, and changed my hair colour every few weeks; from red to blue, to black to pink. Everyone thought I was a little bit weird, and I got some light-hearted jibes thrown my way – but I was lucky, there was no malice in it. I was never into anything dodgy or dangerous, I wasn’t a Satanist, I just liked the Goth aesthetic; wearing black and being a bit different. Most of the other girls I knew were all about having perfectly brushed hair, re-applying make-up in classes, chasing the ‘cool’ boys…that wasn’t me. I was always championing individuality, and even scrawled ‘don’t be afraid to be yourself’ across one of my old school bags – which was met with questionable looks and raised eyebrows.
When this story broke, I felt sick reading the reports; I couldn’t believe that something so senseless and brutal had happened. How could someone do that to someone else? To punch, kick and stamp on someone’s head until they’re unconscious – and for what? After Sophie passed away, her mother Sylvia – who received an OBE in 2014 – set up a charity in her daughter’s name. The Sophie Lancaster Foundation works to spread awareness of alternative subcultures in society and the distressing effects of hate-crime, all the while keeping her memory alive. The charity – which stands for ‘Stamp Out Prejudice Hate and Intolerance Everywhere’ – teaches at primary, secondary and university level, as well as offering training courses, and working with the police and justice system with the view to prevent further crimes of this nature.
‘Murdered For Being Different’ is a powerful telling of a harrowing story; the film’s contrasting dual focus, first of Maltby and Lancaster’s relationship and then the horrific attack, making it all the more hard-hitting. It’s upsetting at times, but executed extremely well by the writers, director and actors. The emotion, from poignancy to brutality and everything in between, really came across – almost as though it reached out and grabbed you. It’s something that will stay with you after the credits have long finished rolling.
Weirdo? Mosher? Freak?
- If you haven’t already, you can still catch ‘Murdered For Being Different’ on BBC Iplayer, click here to watch it.
- Along with his involvement in ‘Murdered For Being Different’, Robert Maltby has also spoken out about the attack, his recovery and his views – for the first and only time in ten years – in an interview with The Guardian. The article also highlights that Maltby went on to finish his illustration degree and now wants to move forward with his life as an artist. Click here to take a look at his portfolio, and click here to read the article.
- While researching for this piece, I found a series of interviews on BBC Three’s YouTube channel in relation to the film, which included Tracy Maltby, Sylvia Lancaster and Robert Maltby, which I found really interesting. I also came across an interview with Sally Lindsay – who plays Tracy Maltby – and Slyvia Lancaster on ‘Lorraine’, where they talk about the film, Sophie’s memory and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
- The Foundation’s official website also offers merchandise, to further spread the message that prejudice, hate and intolerance is not okay, with the proceeds going on to support the cause and the work that they do. The staff can also be found selling merchandise at festivals around the UK, including ‘Bloodstock’ which has a stage named after Sophie herself.
- There are many annual fund-raising events that take place in support of S.O.P.H.I.E. You can keep up to date with any upcoming functions via social media: