foster family drama sheds a few tears, then fires all its shots

Know the subject of My name is Leon (BBC Two), I was ready for it to make me cry. Indeed, half an hour and I was sobbing. Leon is a 10 year old boy who adores his little brother, Jack. But their mother is devastated by depression and cannot take care of them. Leon tries his best to keep the show on the road, feeding and changing Jack as best he can, but eventually social services are called and the couple are placed in foster care.

Then, terribly, the brothers are separated. Jack is adopted and Leon is left behind. As Jack’s new parents carry him away, Leon tries to squeeze his favorite Action Man toy into the baby’s arms. “He’ll keep you safe until I get you back,” the little boy promises. At this point, I was halfway through a box of tissues.

The film, based on a novel by Kit de Waal, features two strong lead roles. One is from the good and reliable Monica Dolan, last seen as Anne Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, here playing Maureen, Leon’s loving nanny. The other comes from newcomer Cole Martin as Leon. What a find it is. The drama relies heavily on him to strike a chord with you, and he does just that with a beautifully straightforward performance.

This is a story told from a child’s point of view sometimes literally, with the camera at Leon’s height and the viewer understands what is happening before Leon. She is told that babies are easier to place in adoptive families, which is probably true. But the brothers also have different fathers: Jake is white and Leon is mixed race. A 10-year-old Métis child will struggle to find a home. During the drama, Leon realizes that the color of his skin will affect his chances in life.