Tag Archives: Lee Ingleby

Word to the wise

Peter Bowker, creator and writer of The A Word, and director Fergus O’Brien discuss making the third season of the BBC family drama and their joy at pushing sidelined characters and stories of disability into the limelight.

Delivered to the BBC at the end of November last year, there was no risk of the third season of family drama The A Word falling foul of the production shutdown that has hampered numerous series around the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other projects for creator and writer Peter Bowker and lead director Fergus O’Brien haven’t been so lucky, however. Bowker is currently writing the second season of ITV’s World on Fire, which was due to start filming in September but he now expects that to be pushed back, with leading actor Jonah Hauer-King currently mid-way through the production of Disney’s live-action movie Little Mermaid.

Fergus O’Brien highlights the importance of the show’s Lake District setting

“It starts to get complicated because they also wanted to film the first block in Spain, which doesn’t help. But I am actually writing,” Bowker tells DQ. “The one bit of certainty they’re trying to cling on to is that they will have all the scripts before they start because they want to schedule it. Availability might mean it will have to be one of those incredible jigsaws.”

Writing World on Fire, which is locked in the past, means he isn’t troubled by questions about whether he should refer to Covid-19. But for crime dramas, “all the alibis for this period of time will stack up because they’ll say, ‘I was in the house for six months.’ So every series will have to factor in a six-month spell where nobody committed crime,” he remarks. “I’m also writing a romantic comedy and there’s references to the past in it all the time and I keep thinking, ‘I’m writing something in the future and I don’t know what it’s going to be.’ Who knows?”

Meanwhile, O’Brien was due to film a block of the second season of another BBC drama, historical series Gentleman Jack, although he is now doubtful that will take place at all this year. He has, instead, returned to his documentary roots to help develop a programme charting the UK’s entire response to the pandemic.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” he says. “There’s quite a lot to keep in your head because it’s quite strict about what you can get out there and film and UGC [user-generated content], which is quite in vogue at the moment, is pretty unsatisfying.”

Peter Bowker

For now, there are no such worries for The A Word, which has won critical and audience acclaim since it first aired in 2016. Based on Israeli drama Yellow Peppers, it follows the Hughes family in the Lake District, where they are struggling to raise youngest son Joe (Max Vento), who is diagnosed with autism. Now, two years on from season two, Joe is 10 and living in two places at once following the divorce of his parents Alison (Morven Christie) and Paul (Lee Ingleby).

“It’s one of the few times the writer says, ‘I’m really glad it’s been such a long gap between seasons’ and actually means it because what it allowed us to do was move the family all into a new phase,” Bowker says of the central family, which has splintered in several directions. “Joe is now that little bit older. His next phase would be puberty, so that creates new challenges and new issues around it. Alison’s in Manchester, Paul’s in the Lakes still. We’ve got a family that’s split into two different places and a child with autism to deal with.”

Produced by Fifty Fathoms and Keshet UK, The A Word doesn’t just focus on the central members of the family but enjoys the company of other figures, such as Alison’s brother Eddie (Greg McHugh), their father Maurice (Christopher Eccleston) and Eddie’s wife Nicola (Vinette Robinson). Bowker says a big change in season three is how the drama has begun to widen its focus further on to these characters and others with disabilities, such as Mark (Travis Smith), the son of Sophie, who works at Paul’s pub.

“The second episode is really Mark’s episode with Paul, which Fergus filmed, where Travis declares his intention to try to join the army and it becomes a story about the responsibility of those trying to encourage somebody with a disability to fulfil their potential and where you draw the line by saying, ‘That’s unrealistic’ and where you say, ‘Let that person try and fail,’ and how you then deal with that. It’s a bit of a road movie, too,” Bowker says.

Max Vento and Molly Wright as Rebecca and Joe Hughes

Distributed by Keshet International, season three sees new cast members including Julie Hesmondhalgh (Broadchurch), David Gyasi (Troy: Fall of a City) and Sarah Gordy (Call The Midwife), with Bowker calling the introduction of Gordy, who has Down’s syndrome, as one of the “joys” of the series as her character, Katie, embarks on a relationship with Ralph (Leon Harrop), who also has Down’s.

“It’s a story about a young couple trying to break away from their parents and make their way in the world,” Bowker explains. “It’s a rite of passage we’ve seen before and it’s doing that through the filter of the fact they have Down’s syndrome. I’ve tried to always flip the expectations so that it’s often about the young people with learning disabilities managing their parents’ expectations, rather than the other way around.

“Chris Eccleston gives a kind of bravura performance throughout the whole thing but his relationship with Leon and his onscreen chemistry with the Ralph character makes them just this great double act.”

Ralph and Katie share just one of the blossoming romances this season, alongside Alison and new character Ben (Gyasi) and between Paul and Sarah (Gemma Paige North), the neurotic parent of Bill, a child who has hearing difficulties. “It’s very sweet,” Bowker notes, “because I created this character of Sarah as the butt of everybody’s jokes in two seasons, so the luxury of having a third season means you can suddenly flip it and Paul sees something in her he hasn’t seen before. It’s that classic one where in the [school] sixth form you’ve spent all this time taking the piss out of this girl and then you end up going out with her.”

Sarah’s evolution through the series is one that Bowker has been able to complete with a third season of The A Word, as he has been able to play with his ensemble of characters and subvert viewers’ expectations of them along the way.

Sarah Gordy and Leon Harrop depict the relationship of a couple with Down’s syndrome

“We know what Morris’s reaction is going to be to something. We expect him to be either blundering or have a use of language that’s incredibly insensitive, and sometimes it’s nice to fight that and he shows himself to be remarkably sensitive, but you know you’re surprising the audience,” he explains. “The joy for me [this season] was running with the Ralph and Morris relationship, which we’d seen something of almost by accident in season two.

“With Joe, he is more verbal than he was, he has more speech, but he often uses that speech in a way to still keep the world at arm’s length, and that’s far more challenging for Max, the actor. When I look now at what a baby he was in the first season, it’s quite a shock to me. Everything was instinctive and you just had to play with that. Fergus is probably the first director who’s been in a director-actor relationship with him. He would ask questions, you would explain things, whereas before it was often a case of working round Max’s instincts. He’s great. He grew as an actor before your very eyes.”

“He’s an extraordinary talent,” agrees O’Brien, who had watched the first two seasons and then rewatched them while preparing to shoot season three. “The difference with him this time was he really responded to being treated like an actor and to being talked to about what he thought his character would do in that situation and giving him that status as somebody who knew his character probably better than a lot of people. He really rose to that. Max just seems to have an instinct. He would know where to be, what to bring to his face and what to do with his hands in a really interesting way and brought truth to what he was doing.”

Coming from a documentary background and fact-based dramas such as Mother’s Day and Against The Law, the director says he was mindful of respecting the style of the series, harnessing the power of the Lake District setting and finding a visual rhythm to Bowker’s writing. “Things would slow down when they needed to slow down and be still so you could really be in an emotional moment, or if it was something that deserved to have more movement and more energy, then we would bring that,” he says. “It was just working to the undulation and the writing. That’s all I wanted to try and amplify a bit more if I could.”

Divorced mum Alison (Morven Christie) and her dad Maurice (Christopher Eccleston)

That rhythm is affected by Joe’s increasing self-empowerment. In season one, he is somebody that things happen to and decisions made about. Now events play out from Joe’s point of view, meaning the show and the show’s “grammar” both moved forward this season.

O’Brien says his aim was to acknowledge Joe and make it clear he was now seeing and hearing what was going on around him, even if he wasn’t responding in the moment. “Even to just let the audience be party to wondering what that might be felt like an extra element I could bring to it.”

Directing the series was “a gift to be able to tell stories that we’re not used to seeing or points of view that we’re not used to seeing on TV,” he adds. “Working with Leon and Sarah and watching their love story, there’s a real richness to that.”

Bowker is rightly proud of writing a mainstream drama that shines a light on people and stories that are usually marginalised on television. “That’s the thing that’s most joyous for me,” he concludes. “And from Lee, Morven, Chris and Pooky [Quesnel, who plays Ralph’s mother Louise], the support the cast lend to this can’t be underestimated. My experience with actors is they’re incredibly hardworking, incredibly accommodating and when they’re responding to work they appreciate, they’re second to none in adjusting and adapting.

“Another joy was having two actors like Julie and David come in, own it and become part of the A Word family, because I like to write about families that are unconventional and find a way of being and are legitimate.”

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Interview technique

The stakes are high in Netflix’s international cat-and-mouse crime drama Criminal, with each episode comprising a single police interview. DQ interrogates the cast and creative team about the series.

If there’s a single series that demonstrates the scale of Netflix’s global ambitions, it might just be Criminal.

The crime drama has a unique premise in that each 45-minute episode takes place entirely during a police interrogation, focusing on the intense clash between detective and suspect, while the cameras are confined to the interview room, the adjoining observation room and the corridor that links them.

But what really makes the series stand out is that this 12-part procedural is set in four European countries, with three episodes each from the UK, France, Germany and Spain. Each batch is recorded in the local language, starring, written and directed by talent from the same country.

Produced by Idiotlamp Productions and launching on September 20, Criminal is overseen by British showrunners George Kay and Jim Field Smith, who wrote and directed the UK episodes, respectively, while also supervising the other countries’ creative teams.

Jim Field Smith (left) and David Tennant on the Criminal set

Kay developed the concept after enjoying the constraints of writing a monologue called Double Lesson for Channel 4’s First Cut strand, while also taking inspiration from an interview he watched with a man accused of killing his stepdaughter.

“During the interview, I changed my mind [about whether he was guilty] about three or four times,” he recalls. “Jim and I have worked together since school and we’ve always loved police stuff, true crime and crime drama, and then the show kind of built out of that.”

George Kay

Kay then wrote an initial script, but the premise – which goes against the grain by being extremely intimate rather than high-concept or lavish – meant it was tricky to find a home for the show. That’s where Netflix came in, with the streamer taking the potential scale of the show in a different direction by turning it into an international format.

“Initially, we were trepidatious,” Field Smith admits. “But it’s been the most amazing adventure.”

Although the project has been five years in the making, production moved at an incredible pace once Netflix came on board. Shooting began in January and wrapped in April, with each episode filmed over a week in the same studio set at the streamer’s production hub at Ciudad de la Tele, Madrid.

“We shot 12 hours of drama in four months,” Field Smith says. “That’s never happened ever, anywhere. So we went from this long period of trying to get the thing away to suddenly all guns blazing.”

Serving as a “pilot block” for the whole series, the English episodes were filmed first, featuring a core cast that includes Katherine Kelly, Lee Ingleby, Nicholas Pinnock, Mark Stanley, Rochenda Sandall and Shubham Saraf. Guest stars appearing in single episodes include David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Youssef Kerkour and Clare-Hope Ashitey. Kay wrote all three of the English instalments, with Field Smith behind the camera, each working with the heads of departments to create the world of the show.

Captain America’s Hayley Atwell guest stars in one of the UK-set episodes

That then became the model for the German, French and Spanish versions that would follow, each inheriting the rules, style and tone set out by the original.

They were led by writer/director Frederic Mermoud and writers Antonin Martin-Hilbert and Mathieu Missoffe from France; director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writers Bernd Lange and Sebastian Heeg from Germany; and Spanish director Mariano Barroso and writers Alejandro Hernández and Manuel Martín Cuenca.

The lure of Netflix and the short-term commitment of a limited series meant the project was able to snare some of each country’s top acting talent, such as Nathalie Baye from France, Germany’s Peter Kurth and Inma Cuesta and Emma Suárez from Spain, in addition to the aforementioned British talent.

“It’s almost like a sort of theatrical engagement,” Field Smith says. “How many opportunities do you get as actors, writers and directors to do a show where it’s entirely about the performance? Yes, there are all these ‘constraints,’ but those constraints are there to be embraced and, actually, actively encouraged. So we were able to say to David Tennant, for example, it’s essentially more of a theatrical play experience than it is a big drama where you might be shooting two or three days across several weeks and there’s a lot of sitting around and a lot of waiting. We told them, ‘We’re going to be shooting 12 pages a day, so you better come prepared.’”

Each of the show’s four batches was shot in Madrid (Spanish version pictured)

It was during the scriptwriting process that Kay and Field Smith began discussing the rules for the world that would become integral to the dynamics between the characters, their behaviour and the way the series would later be filmed.

They made an early decision that the corridor between the observation and interview rooms would be a safe space where characters could tell the truth. “So after being in this ‘theatre,’ they come out the door and would be able to say, ‘Oh, so and so’s getting on my nerves,’ or ‘I really think he did this.’ It’s just true feelings,” Kay says.

The use of CCTV footage or flashbacks and reconstructions was ruled out, while the duo were also keen to ensure the camera never left the set. “The strength of the show is that we are enclosed,” Field Smith notes. “One of the directors wanted to put the camera outside the window and see one of the detectives looking outside, but I said, ‘You can’t do it because you’ve immediately broken the rule of the space.’ So the rules emerged organically as we were making the show, rather than from us sitting down at the beginning with a list.”

Field Smith points to the second UK episode, in which Atwell plays a woman accused of murdering her sister’s boyfriend. The fact that there’s no physical evidence, crime scene photographs or any other visual aids pointing to her guilt, or otherwise, means viewers must rely on the conversation between the accused and the detective and work out themselves who is telling the truth.

The production was able to attract high-profile talent including Tennant (Doctor Who, Good Omens)

“That’s when the shows is at its strongest,” the director continues. “If you’re doing a standard crime drama, the interview room scenes are often used to get as much information as possible so we can get back out on the road and have a car chase. We’re the opposite. Our car chase is in the room; our pyrotechnics come from physicality and body language and a pen simply falling off the table. We’ve both done big, flashy shows and films, and it was a really fun challenge to go the other way.”

With four variations of Criminal, Kay and Field Smith had to be wary of customs and procedures that might be different from the way things work in a UK police station. But when the show is boiled down, each episode follows the same structure – a suspect brought in for questioning by police about a crime they may or may not have committed – no matter what country it’s set in.

“That was the nub of it. So as soon as we can cut to that, finding the truth about that suspect, the grammar of it [across different countries] became pretty similar,” Kay says. “To labour on the on the differences between them was not something we wanted to do for any dramatic reason. So it all became quite a universal story.”

Field Smith picks up: “We didn’t want it to be super-real because that would, in itself, not be interesting. So we created this slightly theatrical, slightly heightened environment. On a script level, the show is technically very accurate; but on a visual level, we wanted to create our own space. We tried not to get too bogged down in what a police station in Germany would look like.”

Lee Ingleby (Luther, Line of Duty) plays a detective in the UK episodes

UK actors Ingleby and Sandall are both aware of the dramatic tension police interview scenes can create, having both previously appeared in a series famed for its interrogations, BBC drama Line of Duty.

In Criminal, they play DI Tony Myerscough and DC Vanessa Warren, who each get the chance to put Tennant’s Dr Egdar Fallon and Atwell’s Stacey Doyle through the wringer in an attempt to get to the truth.

“I thought it was interesting how you don’t have any background. There are no flashbacks or preamble leading up to it – you get the information in that room,” Ingleby says. “And the writing, it’s very rare you get a scene that runs and runs – you get like two or three pages of the scene at the most. That was really thrilling for me.”

Filming in the interview room would take place in the morning, before the scene was reset to be shot from the perspective of those in the observation room.

“It’s very intense. That is the show,” says Sandall. “It’s in the third episode that you see Hugo Duffy [played by Mark Stanley] rehearsing what he’s going to do in the interview, so that feeling of immense pressure would be put on these characters because they are putting on a show. It added to the intensity of it.”

Rochenda Sandall (left), another former Line of Duty star, in Criminal

Owing to the nature of the format, the police investigations take centre stage, leaving little time for actors to develop their characters beyond their work persona. Even so, they have still managed to create power dynamics and even a hint at a romantic relationship between two officers.

“With Myerscough, I suppose he plays it by the book,” Ingleby says. “He’s very methodical compared to somebody like Paul Ottager [Pinnock], who throws the cat among the pigeons. He’s on fire in the room, but slightly less confident in his own skin.

“They’re a team and they work as a team. They have a routine. Some people, you know more about their personal life than others. But you have the work banter, which we thought was good to have going through it.”

The constraints of the series aren’t just limited to the set design or camera movements but the actors’ movements as well, with most of the sitting behind desks the majority of the time. “I do think there’s a real integrity in truth and stillness,” Sandall explains. “It’s a very brave choice to make but, as actors, obviously you’re paranoid, thinking, ‘Oh gosh, is this going to be interesting?’ But there’s a real truth in stillness. It’s a different format – it’s great.”

“I suppose at first, I thought, ‘How interesting can this be?’ But I enjoyed it,” Ingleby admits. “After the nerves of learning a massive amount of lines, you get into the rhythm. For that first week of filming, when it was Rochenda, Katherine and Hayley in the interview room, that was their world, this [observation room] was ours and then we’d swap it around for the next episode.”

Both actors are also excited by where Criminal could go beyond its first season, dreaming up new countries the show could be set in and even crossovers that could bring different countries into the same investigation.

“The ideas that could go beyond this season are huge. There is so much potential in the programme and crossovers,” Sandall adds.

With a format that carries inherent tension and the ambition to apply it to different countries, Criminal is a fascinating and thrilling exploration of the cat-and-mouse relationship between suspects and detectives, and one that Netflix has the capacity and resources to adapt across its global footprint in the years to come.

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You be the judge

Lee Ingleby is out to prove he’s not a murderer in ITV’s emotionally taut four-part drama Innocent. DQ speaks to writers Matt Arlidge and Chris Lang and producer Jeremy Gwilt about putting viewers at the heart of this moral dilemma.

At the heart of every good drama is a moral dilemma, according to writer Matt Arlidge. If that’s the case, Innocent, created and written by Arlidge and Chris Lang, is a very good drama indeed.

The four-part series, which launched last night on ITV in the UK and runs on consecutive nights until Thursday, sets out its stall in the opening scene. David, played by Lee Ingleby, appears on the steps of a court and tells the waiting press that he’s spent seven years in prison for murdering his wife – a crime he claims he did not commit. During that time he’s not only lost his liberty and reputation but his kids as well. The question is, do you believe him?

Chris Lang

To the horror of his wife’s family, including sister Alice (Hermione Norris) and her husband Rob (Adrian Rowlins), the case is reopened and the ensuing investigation will see allegiances flip-flop as the drama unfolds. Other cast members include Daniel Ryan as David’s faithful brother Phil, Nigel Lindsay as DI William Beech and Angela Coulby as DI Cathy Hudson.

Arlidge, whose credits as a producer include Mistresses and Cape Wrath, says that the aim is to ask the key characters big moral questions so that the viewers put themselves in their shoes and ask: ‘What would I do in that situation?’

The show, distributed by All3Media International, was inspired by articles Arlidge and Lang had read about miscarriages of justice. It made them think about the impact of those judgments and the consequences for the families involved. “It uses a thriller structure to explore how families work when there’s pressure put on them that exposes the fault line of a family dynamic,” says Lang, whose ITV series Unforgotten, which is filming its third season, means he is no stranger to crime drama.

It’s the combination of this thriller structure wrapped around detailed, compelling characters that is core to the success of ‘domestic noir.’

“If David’s telling the truth, it means there’s a killer out there,” continues Arlidge. “There’s someone who’s killed and got away with it, and that’s something we were always interested in exploring. On the one hand, what’s it like to be imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit? But conversely, if you did commit murder and get away with it and lived with it for eight years, what’s that like?”

Innocent producer TXTV was founded by Arlidge, Lang and producer Jeremy Gwilt and each of its projects relies on all three creative directors being available to collaborate. While Lang’s Unforgotten was produced by Mainstreet Pictures, Innocent was greenlit at a time when the TXTV trio were free to work on the show together. Gwilt was involved in the development process from the outset and he describes this tight, creative relationship as one of the features of their company.

Innocent stars Lee Ingleby as a man who may or may not have killed his wife

“Although creative imperatives take priority, we’re never afraid of confronting practical issues during storylining and scripting that might impinge on the creative during production,” says Gwilt. “It’s usually best to address them at the earliest stages of a project’s inception.”

In-demand British actors Ingleby (The A Word) and Hermione Norris (Cold Feet) head up the cast, but Gwilt says it’s getting less common to have on-screen talent in place before pre-production and describes scheduling as a jigsaw puzzle. “The availability of actors is one thing,” he explains, “but their availability also has to match the availability of locations and the design department’s ability to create our sets. In most cases, the shooting schedule is built sequentially around the locations then the cast has to fit in with that.”

Although the show is set on the Sussex coast, filming took place in Ireland and the taut emotions of the drama are counterbalanced by sweeping cinematic drone shots along the coastal estuary. Lang says they are the lungs of the piece, giving it space to breathe. Innocent editor Michael Harrowes adds that the isolated hut on the beach to which main character David returns after his incarceration adds to the emotional impact of the story.

“There was a craving for space and freedom,” he says. “David was trapped; set free from prison but trapped in this enormous space where he was surrounded by the coast. Editorially, it was a genius move to set it on the coast.

The cast also features Cold Feet star Hermione Norris

“We built this technique where we would build a character to a point of crisis, to a point they were unable to proceed emotionally and we’d crash out into these landscapes, these fabulous drone shots, and it worked incredibly well for us.”

Gwilt says director Richard Clark (Outlander, Doctor Who) was brought on board because of his reputation for emotionally driven drama: “His visual style is also fluid. It features developing movement and this was especially desirable as we have a large number of potentially static dialogue scenes in interview rooms. It subtly introduces pace and energy and allows us to explore every nuanced reaction from the characters.”

Finding areas of Ireland that matched the topography and architecture of the south coast of England was challenging, but ensuring a seamless transition between the weather of these two geographical areas was even more problematic. “The weather in Ireland was incredibly windy and for a couple of days it blew at almost gale force,” remembers Gwilt. “We were shooting in a wooden house right on the beach. It got so windy during a night shoot that we couldn’t even use the cranes we’d hired for the lights. And the blackouts we’d rigged around the cottage to enable us to shoot night interiors during the day were virtually ripped to shreds. We had an army of brilliant electricians and riggers who were clinging to our equipment for dear life so that we could carry on filming.”

In terms of Innocent’s appeal to an international audience, Lang says it tackles universal stories and themes. “Every society in the world will understand the difficulties families face, and every community ultimately believes in the idea of family and wants it to prevail,” he concludes. “So when you threaten it and place it under immense strain as we do in this story, every community in the world will want the family to prevail. Everyone starts in one place and is slowly is forced by the changing story to reappraise. Every character has to go a long way as well. It’s a big shift that all of them have to make.”

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