Tag Archives: Rollem Productions

Best friends forever

Phyllis Logan, Miranda Richardson and Zoë Wanamaker star as lifelong friends in Girlfriends, Kay Mellor’s long-time passion project about “women of a certain age.” The trio and Mellor reveal the origins of the series and discuss the changing attitudes toward older actors.

Ageism and the lack of roles for older women has long been a concern for actresses in Hollywood and around the world. Then when they do land a part on screen, they often find themselves cast as wives, mothers or grandmothers.

But a new six-part television drama from the pen of Kay Mellor is set to put “women of a certain age” front and centre. Girlfriends, which launches tonight on ITV in the UK, tells the story of friends Linda, Sue and Gail as they struggle with the responsibilities and inevitable changes that come with growing older, bound together by the same friendship they have shared throughout their lives.

“I wanted to put women centre stage,” recalls Mellor, speaking on the set of the series in Leeds, West Yorkshire in August last year. “I went to a seminar at the West Yorkshire Playhouse many years ago where a lot of women were saying they only ever play the nana or the mum and no one speaks for them. There was a need to give women a voice and women of a certain age a voice. I have written Band of Gold and Playing the Field that have put women centre stage before, but women of a certain age and looking at the complexities of their life and what they juggle. They are a sandwich generation looking after kids, kids’ kids and their mothers. We all know what that is like juggling things.”

Mellor is on a hot streak at present, having last year written Love, Lies & Records for BBC1 and executive produced Overshawdowed for digital network BBC3. She also wrote and directed a musical based on her award-winning ITV television series Fat Friends, which is now touring the UK.

Downton Abbey star Phyllis Logan plays Linda

ITV also embraced Girlfriends, something Mellor admits surprised her, explaining that she was gearing up for a battle to get this story of women “past their middle-50s” on air. The writer even expected the broadcaster to request the characters be aged down into their 40s, but that note never arrived.

“I really thought I was going to have fight for this one but it wasn’t that hard a fight,” says Mellor, who is also lead director on the show. “It’s been coming along at the same time as  In the Club and The Syndicate [Mellor’s BBC1 shows, debuting in 2014 and 2012 respectively]. They were always moving forward but this is my passion project. I sit and watch these guys and have a little weep and I have a little laugh. And I am thinking that if I am doing that as the director then I think, dare I say it, it’s going to be good.”

Girlfriends sits particularly close to Mellor as the characters and relationships at the heart of the story are based on her own friendships, with Linda in particular based on the woman who has been the writer’s best friend since she was three years old.

“We used to live over the road from each other, she is the most wonderful person,” Mellor explains. “I don’t think I would be the writer I am if it hadn’t been for her. She supports me in everything I do. She is a very special, lovely woman. She lightens up a room when she walks in it and she certainly lightens up my life.”

On screen, Linda is played by Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey), with her childhood friends Sue and Gail portrayed by Miranda Richardson (Mapp & Lucia) and Zoë Wanamaker (Mr Selfridge) respectively.

Girlfriends is the latest drama from prolific writer Kay Mellow

The story begins in the aftermath of the apparent death of Linda’s husband Micky, as the three friends find themselves back together and facing their own problems, from money troubles, a looming divorce and the loss of a high-powered job from age discrimination, to juggling the responsibilities of caring for their grandchildren and ageing mothers.

“It’s unusual because usually you are tagged on as someone else’s appendage, whether it’s a mother, an auntie or a wife in the background. So it’s nice to be right at the forefront of it all and the men are the add-ons, as it were,” Logan says of her part in the show. “It’s lovely to have three women as protagonists.

“It was so exciting to read it, as it’s very much women of a certain age and it’s all about them and their struggles and their highs and lows, but at the root of it is their friendship that binds them together. They come to each other’s aid, they really do.”

Looking back on a career that has spanned roles in Downton, The Good Karma Hospital, Lovejoy and Silent Witness, Logan says Girlfriends is a refreshing change from the way television dramas are usually cast.

“It was always that men get cast and their wives are 15 years younger, and that’s still there, but it’s nice in ours because it’s the other way around. There is slightly more [opportunity now] for women over 50. People have discovered that women of a certain age are quite interesting and they still have a viability, a sexuality and an attractiveness about them. Maybe people are beginning to cotton on to that – let’s hope.”

Miranda Richardson as successful and intelligent Sue

It was also a relief for Logan not to have to wear a corset or any other period costumes after six seasons playing Mrs Hughes in Downton.

“Period drama is a different thing altogether,” she says. “It has a much more leisurely pace but to a stultifying point. This is fast, and it is fantastic working with Kay. I loved the script, and when she said she was directing, I thought it was fantastic because what better person is there than the person with the vision of what she wants it to look like? It’s brilliant, it’s great fun.”

Playing the highly successful and fiercely intelligent Sue is Richardson, who was keen to work with Mellor. “She has such a fabulous record in writing for women,” the actor observes. “She is humane, so everyone is a hugely rounded character, but she likes to see everything from the women’s point of view. She’s always cooking – she has about five things on the go at the same time.”

During the series, which is produced by Rollem Productions and distributed by All3Media International, viewers will see Sue face challenges both at work and in her private life, seemingly unaware of the life-changing events looming ahead. And the fact that her story and the events and characters in the series are all mash-ups of real-life people and stories adds to the appeal for Richardson.

“They are all amalgams of people,” she says. “I thought of someone the other day who made me think of Sue. There is high drama in the way she operates with groups of people. She is always on show but all of these people have vulnerabilities and they mask their vulnerabilities but you know they are there in different ways.”

Zoë Wanamaker completes the leading trio as Gail

Meanwhile, Gail deals with a mother suffering from the early stages of dementia, a jailbird son who moves in with her and her husband, and a child from an old relationship. But she is able to juggle her responsibilities with the support of her friends.

“Very early on, we make relationships with people in our lives so even if you don’t see them for a long time you pick up where you left off,” says Wanamaker. “If you have that kind of connection, it really goes on. You accept them for what you had together and what you carry on in life, and that way they support each other.”

While she admits hers is a part she wouldn’t normally have done, Wanamaker says she was sold on the project after reading the first three scripts, noting that the opportunity to work with Mellor and play a role not often seen on television was too good to turn down.

“Have you seen how many women are on television now?” she adds. “The last 10 years have been incredible; the American stuff has been all women and very beautifully written and there’s more in this country too, at last. Open the doors. I think it’s a very optimistic time for women.”

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On the Record

Kay Mellor puts her characters – and the audience – through the emotional wringer in BBC1 drama Love, Lies & Records, which stars Ashley Jensen as a working mother juggling her family life with the daily dramas inside a registry office.

The foyer of Dewsbury Town Hall is awash with crew members, its floor covered in cables and wires running between lighting rigs, cameras and monitors.

Banners promoting weddings, naming ceremonies, proms and parties are stationed in various enclaves or next to the large marble columns dotted through the room. A visitors desk is positioned beside the main doorway, a security guard sitting behind it.

Grand pictures of former mayors are hung across the walls of the elaborate Victorian building, which is filled with wood-panelled rooms, ornate painted ceilings and stained-glass windows.

When the cameras begin rolling, however, the setting becomes Greater Leeds Registry Office. Director Cilla Ware, helming the second block of filming, watches behind a monitor as Ashley Jensen, wearing a black leather jacket and black dress, and a suited Kenny Doughty walk across the room in conversation. Extras are waved forward into the shot, criss-crossing past each other as they walk in and out of doorways and stairwells.

Love, Lies & Records stars Ashley Jensen as registrar Kate

This is the set of BBC1’s emotional and heart-warming Love, Lies & Records, in which Jensen (Extras, Agatha Raisin) plays registrar Kate, a working mother who must juggle her personal life with the daily dramas of births, marriages and deaths and the impact they have on her. Doughty plays fellow registrar Rick, with additional cast members including Mark Stanley, Adrian Bower and Mandip Gill.

Written by Bafta-winning scribe Kay Mellor (In The Club, The Syndicate), Love, Lies & Records is directed by Ware and Dominic Leclerc and produced by Rollem Productions in coproduction with Acorn Media Enterprises in the US. All3Media is handling international distribution of the show, which launches on November 16.

The idea for the six-part series first sparked inside Mellor when she had to go to Leeds Town Hall to register the death of her mother, only to return to the same venue for a friend’s wedding just five days later.

“We were in the same place with the same registrars and it made me think about their lives and about everything that went on in this town hall,” she reveals, describing the building as “a hub of emotion.”

Mellor continues: “Who are these people who are one minute marrying people and the next they’re registering a death? How do they cope with that emotionally? Do they have home lives, and how does that impact on their home lives?

The Thick of It’s Rebecca Front (right) plays Kate’s office nemesis

“Kate’s looking after her daughter, who you see picking up strange things on her phone, while her son’s asking to get new trainers, and the next minute she’s registering a death and she’s got a woman in front of her who’s in floods of tears. How do you deal with that? It’s tough, it’s hard to do that. But every registrar I spoke to – and believe me, I spoke to a lot – people find their jobs absolutely fascinating and rewarding emotionally.”

The range of stories Mellor discovered from her research means 98% of the series is based on real events, she says. A wedding that takes place inside a hospice in episode one is just one example of a plot point based on a true story, while the show also touches on topical issues such as immigration, trafficking, cyber-bullying and poverty.

Throw Kate, a maverick who cares little for rules and procedure if it means finding a happy ending, into the mix and you have the potential for more drama than you can shake a particularly sharp stick at.

Unusually for a series written by Mellor, Love, Lies & Records is less of an ensemble drama, despite the large supporting cast, instead focusing mainly on central character Kate, who in the opening scenes discovers she has beaten office nemesis Judy (Rebecca Front) to a promotion. As such, Jensen is barely off screen, whether in scenes set at home surrounded by her family or within the walls of the town hall. Having previously seen Jensen audition for pregnancy drama In The Club – a role she didn’t ultimately land – Mellor was impressed enough to put Jensen at the top of her list for Love, Lies & Records.

The show is 98% based on true stories, according to Kay Mellor

“She’s clearly a leading lady and I’d gone out to her for In The Club to be part of an ensemble,” Mellor says of the Scottish actor. “But I think because of where she’s been, on the other side of the pond [in Ugly Betty] and she’s done Agatha Raisin, she’s a true leading lady in lots of ways. She’s never grand, she’s all embracing and lovely. She’s got a hell of a lot of lines to learn because she leads every scene.”

Inspired by female-led series including Madam Secretary, Doctor Foster and Danish dramedy Rita, Mellor adds: “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely just to follow this woman on her journey and let it open out?’ You see some of her staff, her home life and how that affects her. I just love it when it’s multi-layered and then getting glimpses of the other lives of the other registrars and her family.”

Jensen admits she has long been a fan of Mellor’s work, which she describes as “television people want to watch.”

“With Kay’s writing, it’s so human but it’s done with humour. It’s so honest and a bit painful at times and funny and just very real,” Jensen says. “Her writing is just so wonderful to play. She does make it easy to learn and I’ve had a fair amount to learn. So far, so good.”

The actor also says she’s “ready” to lead a primetime drama. “Because I started at the bottom, I was the day-player that came in for a day, so I’ve done all that and I feel as if I’ve very much served an apprenticeship and it’s not like I’ve suddenly come in [to be a leading actor]. I think I know how to conduct myself and I very much feel that ,on set, it should be a collaborative thing. It’s a worry if it’s not, because every job is absolutely vital. We’re literally all working together for an end gain and I just happen to be the person in all day every day, but that’s fine. I feel ready for it.”

Jensen is best known for roles in sitcoms Extras and Ugly Betty

Another actor arguably more recognisable for appearing in comedies than dramas is Front, best known for comedic turns in shows such as The Thick of It but more recently playing it straight in Humans, Doctor Thorne and War & Peace.

“I could see it in her,” says Mellor of casting Front as the officious and fastidious Judy. “She’s a comedian but I’ve seen her play [dramatic] parts where I thought it would be lovely if I could just get a bit more of that.

“Judy’s been working as a registrar for a long time and has been passed over [for promotion] twice. She’s turning a little bit bitter. All that was gorgeous to write, but down the line they do go on an interesting journey. They’ll never be best buddies [Judy and Kate] but they end up in a better place than they were in.”

Front says she loves straddling comedy and drama, and is particularly attracted to roles that mark a departure from her previous work. “What drew me to [Judy] is just she’s a really complicated woman and is someone who’s made her life unnecessarily complicated,” the actor explains. “That’s what I’m imagining for her backstory – that everything she leans on to make her life easier is somehow actually making her life more complicated. She’s not a bad person at all; she does some really horrible things but she’s not a terrible person and I just think she’s one of those people who ties themselves up in knots and makes wrong decisions.”

Love, Lies & Records hits the screens during a prolific streak for Mellor that began earlier this autumn with BBC3’s online drama Overshadowed, which she executive produced. Then airing in the New Year is Girlfriends, an ITV drama starring Phyllis Logan, Miranda Richardson and Zoë Wanamaker, which Mellor has written and directed. Meanwhile, she has also written and directed Fat Friends: The Musical, which is based on her long-running drama about a group of friends trying to lose weight.

“Kay’s writing has a connection with everybody,” says Doughty of Mellor’s ability to create dramas that stir the emotions. “She’s got the ability to really connect with people on a human level.

“The writing is funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking, and you do get all of that. But this is a different Kay – it’s not The Syndicate or In the Club. It’s got a different grittiness. It feels different. It’s Kay but a slight departure for Kay, and that’s what really excites me.”

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