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'My Name Is Leon': cast, plot, and all you need to know

My Name Is Leon has a top cast. from left Malachi Kirby, Cole Martin, Monica Dolan and Olivia Williams.
My Name Is Leon has a top cast. from left Malachi Kirby, Cole Martin, Monica Dolan and Olivia Williams. (Image credit: BBC)

Kit de Waal’s 2016 debut novel My Name Is Leon told the heart-wrenching but moving story of Leon a nine-year-old mixed-race boy who fights to reunite his family after being taken into care and separated from his blue-eyed, blond, baby brother Jake. 

Now, with an all-star cast including Sir Lenny Henry, Christopher Eccleston, Malachi Kirby, Monica Dolan, and Olivia Williams and newcomer Cole Martin starring as Leon, the story has been brought to our screens by BBC1 for a one-off drama. 

Set in Birmingham in the 1980s Leon’s struggle is pitched against the backdrop of the race riots, forcing the young boy to explore the notions of identity and belonging. 

Mona Qureshi, Executive Producer for BBC1, says: "We are absolutely delighted to be working with Douglas Road, Ringside and Vicarious on this very special adaptation of My Name Is Leon for BBC1. I can’t wait to see Lynette and our fantastic cast bring Shola’s take on Kit De Waal’s brilliant and utterly affecting story to life."  

My Name Is Leon — release date 

There’s no release date yet for My Name Is Leon but we believe it should appear in BBC1 schedules some time this autumn and later on BBCiPlayer. We’ll update it as soon as the date is released. There's also no word yet on a possible US release date.

My Name Is Leon trailer 

No trailer for My Name Is Leon has been released by the BBC but do watch this space fo us to post it when it arrives! 

My Name Is Leon plot 

The story of My Name Is Leon is told from the point of view of Leon, a nine-year-old boy who adores his golden-haired half-brother Jake and vows to look after him, no matter what. Despite his young age, Leon learns to take care of Jake whenever his depressed, painkiller-addicted mother Carol takes to her bed. But then, the pair are suddenly taken into care. As a white baby, Jake is quickly adopted but as a mixed-race nine-year-old the future doesn’t look as rosy for Leon who's determined to put his fractured family back together. With the help of his wonderful but ailing foster mother Maureen, and his favourite action figure Sergeant Smith by his side, Leon must navigate an uncertain world, racial tensions, a whole host of colourful characters and a system that is pitted against him. 

My Name Is Leon cast — Sir Lenny Henry as Mr Johnson

Not only is Sir Lenny Henry starring in the TV adaptation of My Name Is Leon as the character Mr Johnson, he’s also the executive producer of the movie after snapping up the rights to the book he loved. 

"I discovered the book whilst performing the audiobook and was so moved on the first day’s work that I rang my office at lunchtime and said ‘we’ve got to try and do this’. Thankfully after five years, we’ve pulled it together with a great writer (Shola Amoo), director (Lynette Linton), cast, and crew. I can’t wait to see the results." 

In the movie Lenny plays Mr Johnson, an elderly gardener at the allotment Leon visits. Lenny himself has had a long and varied career since he made his debut on a talent show called New Faces in 1975 at the age of 16. followed by kids Saturday morning show Tiswas. His career as a comedian took off and he had his own sketch show The Lenny Henry Show from 1984 to 1988. As an actor he’s appeared in The Syndicate, Broadchurch and Doctor Who plus he is currently filming The Lord of the Rings TV series coming to Amazon Prime in 2022. However, his biggest achievement is co-founding the charity Comic Relief. 

Sir Lenny Henry and the presenters of Comic Relief 2021.

Sir Lenny Henry and the presenters of Comic Relief 2021. (Image credit: Comic Relief/Claire Harrison - Photographer: Nicky Johnston/Claire Harrison)

Malachi Kirby as Tufty Burrows

Former EastEnders star Malachi Kirby plays Tutfy Burrows who Leon meets at the allotment. Tufty introduces Leon to his own brand of race politics although Leon is too young to fully understand it. "It’s rare, in my experience, for projects such as this to be made and even more rare to be seen, so I’m really excited and grateful to be a part of it," says Malachi. As well as playing Nancy Carter’s fiancé Wayne Ladlow in EastEnders in 2014, the actor is well known for his part as Kunta Kinte in the 2016 series Roots. He’s also appeared in the TV series Curfew (2019), Devils (2020) and the mini-series Small Axe, in which he played Darcus Howe. 

Monica Dolan as Maureen 

Monica plays Leon’s doting, no-nonsense foster carer Maureen who along with her reluctant sister Sylvia, tries to help Leon on his quest to reunite his family. "Rarely do you get the chance even to read a script of such heart, soul and wisdom as Shola’s. And it could not have come at a more appropriate time. I am thrilled and privileged to be working with such a great cast and to be part of Lynette Linton’s TV debut," says Monica. The actress played Rosemary West in the 2011 TV series Appropriate Adult and Anne Darwin in Canoe Man. She’s also appeared in A Very English Scandal, Wolf Hall, Strike, and Vanity Fair and last year she starred in one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads. You'll also probably recognise her as Tracey Pritchard from BBC comedy W1A.   

Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin in Canoe Man.

Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin in Canoe Man. (Image credit: Getty)

Who else is starring?

The BBC1 adaptation of My Name Is Leon also features roles for former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccelston, Ackley Bridge star Poppy Lee Friar, Shobna Gulati (Dinnerladies, Coronation Street and Doctor Who) and Olivia Williams, who starred in the 2020 Oscar winning movie The Father

"This film is a real challenge for me," says Olivia Williams who plays Maureen’s sister Sylvia. "The subject matter has deep resonance, and my character is both grotesque and very real. I’m so excited to be involved."