Tag Archives: Nigel Marchant

Six of the Best: Nigel Marchant

The joint MD of Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films selects the series that inspired his career in film and television, including a superbly crafted period drama perfect for binge-watching and a second appearance this issue for Friday Night Lights.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
The show that first made me want to work in film and television. This heightened fable of a woman spurned was ground-breaking, surreal and disturbing. Adapted from the novel by Fay Weldon, it charts one woman’s revenge on her philandering husband as she ruins both his life and that of the woman he deserted her for. I loved how inventive both the script and direction were; it never feared to be both dark and surprisingly funny. Made at a time when television was experimental and different, this show (alongside Denis Potter’s work) opened my eyes to varied ways to approach storytelling.

ER
ER seemed to reinvent the procedural drama by cleverly weaving together a story of the week with the more complex serial strands involving the main characters. The fast-paced, raw choreography of the camera, alongside interlacing storylines, gave the show a realism and credibility still unsurpassed by other medical dramas. When it first hit the screens, it felt urgent, authentic and emotionally charged. But besides the blood, gore and realism, it gave us characters who we fell in love with, and I’m not just talking about Dr Doug Ross (played by George Clooney)… OK, yes I am.

The West Wing
Snappy, smart dialogue, wonderful production values and the president we all wanted and deserved. Created by Aaron Sorkin, this multi-award-winning series introduced us to brilliantly rounded and complex characters in the most urgent and absorbing situations. Funny, heart-breaking and utterly addictive, the show always felt intelligent and sophisticated, yet never alienating. The perfect mix of great writing and brilliant casting made this essential viewing and US television at its best.

Bleak House
I remember being on location in Morocco in the days before SVoDs and iTunes, working my way through a pile of DVDs in my hotel room, and eventually getting to Bleak House, which I had missed when it originally aired. I expected the usual Sunday night, period Dickens adaptation but was thrilled to be wrong. The decision to air the show to replicate the serialised nature of how his novels were originally published was a work of genius – it served to highlight how compulsive and populist his writing was. Like a superbly crafted period soap opera, the interlacing storylines and wonderful hooks meant I kept watching one episode after another, into the small hours when I was meant to be asleep. Stylistically, the camera work felt incredibly modern without being distracting, alongside strong production values and inspired casting, all of which worked together to strengthen the narrative. It was a glorious treat to watch.

Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights was a show I discovered quite late in its run but once I’d seen my first episode, I quickly binge-watched the rest. Intriguing characters and tight, complex storytelling made for compulsive viewing, even when the thought of American football felt so alien and intrinsically off-putting to me. Peter Berg’s story of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a small, neglected community was imbued with so much pathos and heart. I loved that it never relied on huge dramatic events to propel the narrative but had the courage to trust that the audience were invested in the characters. You could practically smell the desires and expectations of the characters, which made the series feel honest, truthful and ultimately rewarding.

Prime Suspect
I still love the original Prime Suspect. It highlighted Lynda La Plante’s screenwriting prowess – the simplicity of giving an audience only one plausible perpetrator and then keeping them guessing until the closing moments whether they were guilty was the work of a writer at the top of her game. With a wonderful economy of dialogue, the taut script gave birth to one of the most iconic and enduring characters on television in DCI Jane Tennison, masterfully played by Helen Mirren. Prime Suspect was a gritty, unforgiving and absorbing story of a female fighting against prejudice, battling for a chance to be heard in a male-dominated workplace – shame that, 30-odd years later, not much has changed.

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Back in town

Sky1 is revisiting the American frontier for a second season of historical drama Jamestown. DQ travels to Budapest to meet some of the cast and creator Bill Gallagher on set.

Inside a Native American tepee that has been painstakingly constructed from dried reeds, we are chatting to a group of Pamunkey warriors in striking red warpaint and feathers in their hair. Behind us, a magnificent ceremonial cape made out of the gorgeous black and white plumage of an eagle is hanging from the roof. Nearby, the giant carcasses of a deer and a fish are draped over a sturdy wooden tripod. This feels – and smells – just like early 17th century America.

But it is, in fact, just one part of the spectacular set that has been built in a field outside Budapest for Jamestown, the Sky1 period drama about the beleaguered frontier town, which returns for its second season this Friday. So now there is a corner of modern-day Hungary that is forever 1619 Virginia.

The second season picks up the story of this battling settler community through the prism of Alice (Sophie Rundle), Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick) and Verity (Niamh Walsh). At the start of the series, these three intrepid women became the first females to set foot in Jamestown for 12 years.

But the second run of Bill Gallagher’s drama, which is produced by Carnival Films, does not just focus on the women. It broadens out to take in such dramatically rich areas as the effect of the settlement on the Pamunkey and the beginnings of the slave trade.

Rundle, who has also shone in Peaky Blinders, Dickensian, Happy Valley and The Bletchley Circle, takes a break between scenes and comes over to talk. We find a shady spot out of the broiling Budapest sun, which feels just about hot enough to cook a goulash.

Dressed in Alice’s splendid flowing dress, the 29-year-old actress begins by emphasising that the drama simply cannot overlook the subject of the treatment of the Pamunkey. “It would be a real failing if the Native Americans weren’t central to the story,” she asserts.

“It’s really important, otherwise we’d just be whitewashing history. In this season, there are many amazing scenes about the two communities interacting that you might not have expected. It’s vital that we get this storyline absolutely right.”

In Jamestown, authenticity is king. Kalani Queypo, who plays Pamunkey man Chacrow, is pleased the producers have gone to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of their portrayal of the Native American characters. “That’s one of the aspects of this production that’s really good,” declares the 31-year-old, who has also appeared in Fear the Walking Dead, Slow West, The Royal Tenenbaums, Aspen the Series and Saints & Strangers.

“When you tell Native American communities you’re shooting a drama featuring Native American characters in Budapest, the first thing they say is, ‘Oh no, it’s going to be a bunch of Eastern European actors with spray tans and bad wigs!’ But that’s not what we’re doing on Jamestown. The producers have brought over 60 Native American actors from the US and Canada. That’s amazing.”

Jamestown star Sophie Rundle (centre) also has a major role in Peaky Blinders

Perhaps even more astonishing is the fact the production has revived the Pamunkey language, which had not been spoken in many decades. Queypo adds: “For the descendants of the Pamunkey to hear their language for the first time is incredible.

“It’s a great responsibility for us because when we speak that language, we’re calling upon those ancestors. We’re channelling a way of life. It’s very challenging to learn, but it’s been an absolute privilege.”

In addition, Jamestown may also help to correct the way some elements of Native American history have been spun. Raoul Trujillo, 62, who portrays the Pamunkey tribal chieftan Opechancanogh in the drama, observes: “History has always been told to us by the victors. They call a victory for the Native Americans a ‘massacre’ and a massacre of the Native Americans a ‘victory.’”

Trujillo, who has also starred in Apocalypto, The New World, Riddick and Sicario, continues: “For instance, the Native American victory at Little Big Horn has been described as ‘a savage massacre.’ Come on!

“Balance in the recounting of history has long gone. There have been 500 years of colonialist history, so this re-balancing has been a long time coming. Of course, we need to do far more, but dramas like Jamestown are really helping.”

The new season of Jamestown tackles the beginnings of the slave trade

Queypo picks up: “Historically in Hollywood films, Native Americans have just been a device to push the story forward. As a result, Native American characters have been very one-dimensional in the past. They have either been peaceful or warriors who want to kill white people for no reason. But Jamestown is very different. Here, the Native Americans are not just a device; they are multi-dimensional characters in their own right.”

The other major subject that is tackled in this season of Jamestown is slavery. Again, it is imperative for the cast and crew that the production does not try to gloss over the horror of the slave trade. Rundle affirms: “It’s vital to address slavery. And it’s not OK to get it wrong. You’ve got to tell these stories, or you’re rewriting history. We don’t want to be saying, ‘White people, how was it for you?’ We want to be saying to the people forced into slavery, ‘What was it like for you?'”

Jamestown, which is sold worldwide by NBCUniversal International Television Distribution, does not flinch in its depiction of the sheer brutality of life in the settlement. It underlines that the people who survived there had to be exceptionally tough. Nigel Marchant, exec producer on the show, calls it “a mixture of Jacobean drama and a western.” It certainly contains both those traits. It possesses a welcome sense of humour and is unfailingly entertaining, too.

But it also has many striking parallels with the world today. Gallagher, previously responsible for Lark Rise to Candleford and The Paradise, says: “Of course, I appreciate the times we live in. In the UK today, we’re free. But I also think the way people behaved in Jamestown can be a mirror to the way we behave now. We have still some fantastical beliefs and our ideas of justice are not always sensible.

More than 60 Native American actors feature in the production

“We don’t live in a time free from horrors. The idea of colonising countries in order to make money could be a reflection of the global economy today. There are all kinds of regimes these days which are not a million miles from the Jacobean way of inflicting order on people.”

But can drama ever really teach us anything? The Jamestown team believe so. Abiola Ogunbiyi, who plays Maria, one of the slaves brought into the settlement, muses: “I think viewers will learn something from Jamestown because they’ll identify with the characters. But what would be really awesome would be if audiences also got a sense from the drama of why things are this way now.”

The 27-year-old actor concludes: “The need for power and influence has very contemporary echoes. People have always used their religions and traditions to dehumanise other people and justify their actions.

“I’m afraid the desire to dominate other people has never, ever gone away.”

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