Tag Archives: Nicola Larder

Braving the storm

 Marcella returns for a second season with the creative team behind the ITV drama promising darker and more challenging times ahead for the eponymous detective. DQ finds out more.

The first season of high-concept thriller Marcella, created by Hans Rosenfeldt and Nicola Larder and starring Anna Friel as the titular character, scattered some Scandi magic over UK broadcaster ITV’s schedule and globally via Netflix. Attracting an average 25% audience share and 6.8 million viewers, the show did the business for its network and its producer, Buccaneer Media, and is now returning for season two on February 19.

Rosenfeldt says that when he first started to work on the original show, he didn’t think beyond season one; the story had to be wrapped up and satisfying just in case the drama didn’t have a life beyond that first season. An obvious challenge when approaching the second season, therefore, was to deliver the ingredients that struck a chord with the audience the first time round, but to present them in a way that feels fresh.

The second season of Marcella sees Anna Friel return as the London detective

“We liked a lot from season one,” says Rosenfeldt, best known as the creator of Nordic noir smash hit The Bridge. “We are keeping the multi-plot and are dipping into London in different places with different characters and keeping the idea that, at first, you don’t really know how they’re connected to our case or our protagonist.”

Larder executive produces the series alongside Rosenfeldt and Buccaneer Media founder Tony Wood, with Cineflix Rights distributing the drama. She says defining the show’s USP was a key conversation when they embarked on season two, adding: “What we realised is that Marcella will have to go through an absolute storm emotionally and psychologically as she did in season one, and that she will also be investigating a serial killer. That is part of our brand.”

Larder says the case under investigation will be linked to Marcella because that is also part of the show’s DNA. “In some people’s eyes, that’s coincidence but for us it’s part of our brand,” she adds. “As long as we have good, exciting material which makes Marcella fight harder to get justice, I don’t think our audience will care that there was a personal connection to the crime last time too.”

As is typically the case for sequels, season two will be darker, more challenging and editorially bolder, as the story bar had already been set high in season one. The headline from ITV when talking about bringing the show back was that they were interested in Marcella’s character-defining blackouts or ‘fugue attacks.’ Rosenfeldt says: “We needed to do something with them. We couldn’t just have them appearing again and causing her trouble. What we’re doing this time is we’re digging further into the reasons why she’s having them.”

Writer Hans Rosenfeldt attends a readthrough

With his responsibilities on The Bridge now wrapped up following a fourth and final season that debuted in Denmark and Sweden last month, Rosenfeldt has written seven out of eight episodes while The Bridge co-writer Camilla Ahlgren takes one. He has also moved to London, is writing later drafts in English and has factored in a longer lead time for scripts.

“I’ve written shorter scripts this time around,” says Rosenfeldt. “Last time they were a bit long and we had to make choices in the edit to lose things. They were perfectly good and would’ve been great, but time didn’t allow it. This time we get more of what’s actually there on the screen, which is really good.”

Having set up the show in season one, director Charles Martin has come back to work on this new run, which has helped with the continuity of tone and style. However, a delay in getting season two greenlit meant many of Martin’s previous creative team weren’t available, so he had to assemble a new one.

“The important thing was not to try to reinvent the wheel but to make something that inhabits the same universe,” the director says. “We used a different camera but we used the same lenses.”

Nigel Planer (left) and Keith Allen also appear in the drama

Martin already had a template for the show. “The story here is reasonably heightened and, therefore, I didn’t want to do anything too arty. I wanted to do something that had its own look but didn’t feel artificial or forced. I wanted to do something quite straight because what’s not straight here is the story.”

One of Martin’s biggest challenges was that while season one was shot in the autumn, this time they were shooting in the height of summer. “We wanted to make sure the series remained saturated with colour, so there was a richness to it,” adds Larder. “We also pulled many antisocial hours on the unit to get as much night as we could. There’s an element of voyeurism to the shooting style, so even if you’re in a bright London square, there’s a danger to it because of how it’s filmed. Reviewing it in the edit, you don’t notice it’s seasonally different.”

Every noir needs an iconic coat or jumper, and the change in seasons impacted Marcella’s choice of attire, with the detective usually clad in her distinctive parka. “We chose the coat in season one because we wanted Marcella to have a really immediately identifiable silhouette in any dark shady place because we were going to be picking her out at night,” says Larder. “In a practical sense, we needed our actress to be warm. Then, in turn, it became something she worked with, performed with.” This season Marcella’s coat is different but, apparently, just as good.

While initially Rosenfeldt wasn’t looking much further than making season one a hit, he says this time he’s already thinking about season three. “We are setting up for season three at the end of two,” he says. “Season two will still be a very good standalone but, if season three happens, we know exactly what we want to do with it.”

The term ‘difficult second album’ is well known in the music industry and similarly in TV there’s always going to be pressure to live up to the success of the first season. “Our ambition wasn’t to just do what we did before, but to better it,” says Larder. “We wanted to embrace the bravery we had in season one when there weren’t half as many expectations. What I think I’m most proud of is that the storytelling is even stronger and what Marcella goes through is even more surprising. So we’ve not lost our boldness. Boldness is our brand.”

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London calling: Bringing Scandi noir to the capital

The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt brings Scandi style to the streets of London in crime drama Marcella. DQ meets the cast and crew.

On a bright and sunny day in central London, light pours into the Serious Crime Unit office.

Ten floors above a bustling Tube station, the room is filled with banks of desks, each one covered with its own computer and piles of paper. Police officers who glance up from their monitors can enjoy unimpeded views of the capital through the panoramic windows.

But there’s work to do. On one side of the room, two whiteboards are covered with photographs and information relating to a group of murder victims. Images taken from the blood-stained crime scenes leave little to the imagination.

Hans Rosenfeldt Photo: Albin Olsson
Hans Rosenfeldt (photo by Albin Olsson)

Welcome to the world of Marcella, an eight-part drama currently airing on ITV that marks The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt’s first foray into English-language series.

Anna Friel stars as the eponymous detective who returns to the Metropolitan Police’s Murder Squad when her husband (played by Nicholas Pinnock) suddenly leaves her.

Eleven years after she gave up her fast-tracked police career to marry and start a family, she throws herself back into her work and, after a spate of murders, finds herself on the case of a serial killer that first struck in 2005.

The cast also includes Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael, plus Ian Puleston-Davies, Nina Susanna, Ray Panthaki, Jamie Bamber, Sinead Cusack, Patrick Baladi and Harry Lloyd.

Produced by Buccaneer Media, Marcella is executive produced by co-creators Rosenfeldt and Nicola Larder alongside Tony Wood. Cineflix Rights is distributing the series internationally and has secured a deal with Netflix that will see the series air worldwide on the SVoD platform.

As a big fan of The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen), Friel says she was excited to join a “unique” production that isn’t simply a remake of an existing Scandinavian drama. “It was changing the mould and the shape by taking a Scandi writer, putting him in England and letting him give his take on London,” she tells DQ during a break from filming at the fictional police station.

Carrying the series as the title character, who Friel admits is in almost every scene, might have led to the actor feeling under pressure – but she says she hasn’t had time to stop and take stock during the intense shoot.

“For 13 hours a day I’m thinking like Marcella, so it’s made me a bit depressed at certain times because there’s quite a lot on her shoulders,” she explains, “but it’s only a certain time in your life, and my daughter Gracie always pulls me out of that because I go home and I’m mummy and that’s real life.”

Discussing her character, Friel continues: “I love watching strong female leads but I also like the human side, that we’re all delicate and fractured. Most cops are mavericks in what they do but they’re also human. Marcella’s incredibly fractured. We all use a bit of our own life to make it true and believable, but I’m really sane compared with Marcella.”

From left: Anna Friel and Charles Pinnock receive direction from Charles Martin
From left: Anna Friel and Nicholas Pinnock receive direction from Charles Martin

Friel was well placed to star in a drama from a Swedish writer, having previously worked in Scandinavia on Norwegian historical drama The Heavy Water War (aka Kampen om tungtvannet or The Saboteurs).

“That was one of the biggest things that drew me to this – they had a work ethic I’d never seen before,” she recalls. “It was very tight and really well thought out; very concentrated and focused. I liked that a lot.”

American Odyssey and Pushing Daisies star Friel was the “first and only choice” to play Marcella, according to executive producer Larder, who created the character before seeking out Rosenfeldt to bring her story to life.

“I’d worked with her before and I knew she gives a lot of herself to her roles,” Larder says. “She’s a method actor and I knew I wanted someone to lay themselves bare in the process. Marcella is very raw and very visceral and I wanted someone brave like Anna to go there. She does that pretty much every day.”

Larder – who was a development executive on the first season of The Tunnel, the Anglo-French adaptation of The Bridge – describes Marcella as “amazingly complicated,” a detective who failed to detect the collapse of her marriage and is now headlong in an emotional spin while trying to catch a serial killer.

TwoDetectives

“I like the idea of a mistrustful central female protagonist whose actions the audience should always understand, if not like,” she adds. “That’s real life – it’s not always black and white. We can be great people who sometimes act irrationally, unsympathetically or selfishly. Marcella has a reality to her. She’s not defined by being a detective or a mother, she’s defined by both – she’s just not been able to do both simultaneously.

“There are big question marks over Marcella’s character and what she’s capable of from the beginning. We run with that and we enjoy it.”

From the slow-boiled character studies of Broadchurch to the harsh Icelandic setting of Fortitude, every new crime drama in the UK in recent years seemingly can’t escape being described as a British take on the immensely popular Nordic noir genre.

But Marcella goes one further, taking Rosenfeldt and placing him in a London-set show designed for a British audience. “We are not imitating Scandinavian noir, we are taking a Scandinavian writer out of his comfort zone and setting him free,” Larder insists. “But we’re aware of our audience. We need to deliver for a British audience that loves character.

“At its heart, Marcella is an emotionally guided thriller and all Tony and I do is support Hans’s vision. When you’ve got a whole load of brilliant, clever and emotional British actors on top of his Swedish words, you get this beautiful creative fusion.”

Friel during a cast reading for the show
Friel during a cast reading for the show

Having written three seasons of The Bridge – a fourth (and possibly final) is under discussion – Rosenfeldt says he was keen to put Swedish detective Saga Norén (played by Sofia Helin) to one side and work with a new central character. “I’ve been writing Saga for so long so it was fun for me to do something else. I know Saga so well – it’s nice to meet someone new,” he explains.

For his first English-language series, Rosenfeldt wrote the first three episodes in Swedish before they were translated into English. For episodes four, five and six, he gave notes in English, before writing the last two in English with the help of a script editor.

But, as Friel found out when she read the finished articles, the writer enjoys giving actors room to contribute to their own character’s development beyond what’s on the page. “It’s quite intimidating following Saga because she’s such a great character,” she says. “I wanted to know how much of Saga was written on the page and how much it was (Helin) who brought it to the script. (Rosenfeldt) said it was a blend of both and there are gaps for me to inhabit her. That was a bit scary.”

Rosenfeldt explains: “When you read my scripts, it might seem like there’s not much in them, but that’s how I write. I don’t like writing stage directions, I don’t write emotions and I try to keep away from exposition, in terms of both plot and emotion. So it’s quite a strict script, which gives the actors a lot of room. When they’re really good, like Sofia and Anna, they do miracles with it.”

Reuniting with Rosenfeldt is Henrik Georgsson, one of three directors alongside Charles Martin and Andrew Woodhead. Georgsson, who steers episodes seven and eight of Marcella, has previously overseen 16 hours of The Bridge as well as episodes of Wallander.

“It’s also the first time for me working in English and sometimes it’s hard when you’re talking about dialogue and discussing things with actors,” Georgsson says of his experience on Marcella. “The crews are a little bit bigger but it’s great to be filming in London.”

The series has been filmed in three blocks, with each director given the freedom to bring their own style to their episodes. “Mine is a focused style,” Georgsson says. “I’m trying to find what’s essential in the scene. The second block had more of a moving camera. I like pictures with a lot of depth. Actors sometimes stand by a wall but we don’t like that because you can’t get depth, and lighting is harder to do well, so we prefer to have people in the middle of the room.”

The production team made a point of keeping the cast clueless about Marcella’s final act and the killer’s real identity. “We wanted all our characters to act in the moment,” Larder says of the “big, bold puzzle” drama. “That’s the spirit of the piece – they’re not necessarily thinking ahead. They only learnt about some of the key reveals of the series in the final weeks of shooting. It means they’re focusing on the scene and what the character actually knows, rather than pre-empting what they know in the future. It gives a real freshness and immediacy and it keeps people on their toes.”

There were also challenges for the production team, most notably in filming across London and finding the right location for the main police station.

“We’re lucky enough to be on the 10th floor of a tower block, which means incidentally we’re exploring the city through our shots,” Larder says. “Once we found that location, it felt like we could radiate out from that. But we’re competing in a very fruitful time for drama in TV and film in a city that is overrun with film units. It’s been a big challenge.”

Production designer Max Gottlieb continues: “One of the key things was the police station and what it means to the story, but you also have to take into account every other police show and every other police station. The key thing was actually showing London, so that’s why we chose this location. Being so high up, you’re always seeing London in the background and you’ve got great shots of Marcella looking down at life.

“Real police stations are usually some form of blue, but we wanted to do something warm to make it more to do with Marcella. We used a lot of wood and it’s quite a creamy colour to give it that warmth.”

While she’s hopeful Marcella will get a second season in 2017, Larder is now keen to bring more European writers to the UK.

“I feel like the idea is boss right now,” she says. “I found an incredible talent in Hans who wanted to put his fresh authorship into the most favoured genre, crime. I want to continue to build relationships with writers with European and international prowess and keep challenging the market to keep giving those authors a voice outside of their home territories. That’s what I want to be doing.”

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