Politics on Screen: Sitting in Limbo

At the start of June BBC One aired Sitting in Limbo, a factual drama about the consequences of the Windrush scandal of 2018. Despite the programme flying largely under the radar, nearly two months after I watched this important piece of television, I still reflect on it and the way it made me feel.

Sitting in Limbo recounts the true story of Anthony Bryan, a Jamaican-born British man who, as a result of the UK Home Office’s hostile environment policy on immigration, is wrongly labelled as an illegal immigrant in the country he has lived in for fifty years. This ninety minute drama follows Anthony’s struggle to be recognised as a British citizen and the way that the never-ending process affects him and his family.

Still via Sitting in Limbo // BBC iPlayer

The programme is a depiction of a national, political scandal, but individuals are at the centre of every minute of Sitting in Limbo, making for a particularly compelling viewing. There are some accomplished, believable performances on display that give the story real heart. Most notable are Patrick Robinson (Casualty) in his career defining portrayal of Anthony himself, as well as Nadine Marshall who beautifully plays Anthony’s partner Janet. This intimate vision has undoubtedly been created by writer Stephen S. Thompson, novelist and half-brother of the real Anthony Bryan, who decided to dramatise a story that he had experienced first-hand.

As viewers, we are shown the full extent of Anthony’s suffering through a host of powerful scenes. It is difficult not to shed a tear at the humiliating manner in which he is dragged from his house into a police car with little explanation of why, or not to scream in frustration at the lack of humanity shown by officials during the scenes in the immigration office. The unlawful treatment of innocent citizens as criminals is reflected in Anthony’s terrifying stays in detention centres, where he is separated from his family, faces threats of deportation, and left at the mercy of people he has never met. I had struggled to fathom the horrors of the Windrush scandal when it originally emerged and the shocking injustice hidden and buried in political jargon. It was only by watching this powerful adaptation with its depiction of the brutal consequences that I truly grasped how despicable it was.

Still via BBC Sitting in Limbo // BBC iPlayer

It is necessary and important that Sitting in Limbo decided to tell only one story, in order to fully examine the trauma and suffering of a single family. A distressing detail shared in the programme that I hadn’t previously considered is Anthony’s long-term struggle in the aftermath of his experiences in the deportation centre. He is seen to suffer from traumatic flashbacks whilst those around him rejoice that he has returned home. The emotional complexity depicted in the drama is effective and highlights that Anthony and his family are more than just a statistic reported in the media. However, the programme does not shy away from the statistics themselves and towards the end of the adaptation, real footage from Westminster and news reports become entwined in the drama, reminding us how recently the events of the Windrush scandal occurred. The concluding sequence of harrowing statistics forces us to imagine the pain suffered by Anthony Bryan replicated in at least 850 people who were wrongfully detained between 2012 and 2017.

Still via Sitting in Limbo // BBC iPlayer

Sitting in Limbo is an essential viewing; it will anger, it will upset, but it will also educate. It teaches us not just about British history but also about Britain today, as the majority of victims are still yet to receive the compensation that they applied for. The Windrush scandal is not a thing of the past. To this day, those who were affected are still fighting for the justice they deserve.

Erin Zammitt

Featured Image Source: Still via Sitting in Limbo // BBC iPlayer

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