Tag Archives: The Living and the Dead

Film producers flock to TV

Nicole Kidman in the 1996 film adaptation of The Portrait of a Lady
Nicole Kidman in the 1996 film adaptation of The Portrait of a Lady

Number 9 Films is teaming up with Red Production Company on a TV adaptation of Henry James’ seminal 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady. This is the third time the novel will have been adapted for the screen, following a 1968 BBC miniseries and a 1996 feature film directed by Jane Campion and starring Nicole Kidman.

The story focuses on Isabel Archer, a vivacious New World ingénue who leaves America for Old World Europe, keen to experience all that life has to offer. She rejects a series of marriage proposals from eager but safe lovers for a life of independence, but when she inherits an unexpected fortune that will grant her desires, she falls prey to two American ex-pat schemers, the elegant Madame Merle and the charming but cruel and calculating Gilbert Osmond. She is then lured into a marriage with unfortunate consequences.

Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley of Number 9 Films will executive produce alongside Red’s Nicola Shindler (Happy Valley). StudioCanal will handle worldwide distribution.

Elizabeth Karlsen
Elizabeth Karlsen

Karlsen said: “We have long been admirers of Nicola’s groundbreaking work in television. She has built an extraordinary company and creative team that we feel privileged to be collaborating with on our first outing into TV. We believe we share a sensibility with Nicola of being drawn towards material with complex and compelling female lead characters, which is one of the defining elements of Portrait of a Lady.”

Shindler added: “Elizabeth and Stephen have produced some of the most acclaimed and engaging feature films of recent years and I am delighted to be working with them on their first television project. Having been originally published as a monthly serial, and addressing themes of personal freedom, betrayal and modernisation, Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady lends itself perfectly to the longform storytelling that only TV can offer.”

No broadcast partners have been named yet, but with the story set against the backdrop of New York, Boston, London, Florence and Rome, it lends itself to international coproduction.

James’ works have a track record of being adapted for TV and film – with The Bostonians, The Europeans, The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove and The Turn of the Screw having also been reimagined for the screen. However, Turn of the Screw is the only one of his novels to have been adapted in recent times.

Maigret-Sets-A-Trap-3FEAT
Rowan Atkinson as Maigret

Also this week, UK broadcaster ITV commissioned two further Maigret films with Rowan Atkinson again in the title role.

ITV said: “Following huge audience appreciation and critical acclaim for Maigret Sets a Trap, which aired on ITV earlier this year and achieved a consolidated rating of 7.2 million viewers and a 28% share of the audience, writer Stewart Harcourt will adapt Night at the Crossroads from Georges Simenon’s novel. Simenon’s son, John, returns as an executive producer of the new films. The second of the new films will be Maigret in Montmartre – set, once again, against the backdrop of 1950s Paris.”

The 120-minute films will go into production in November 2016 until February 2017, and will be produced by Thompson & Thompson Productions and Georges Simenon Limited.

The films have been commissioned by controller of drama Victoria Fea, who said: “It’s an absolute privilege to commission two further Maigret films for ITV. We were thrilled to welcome Rowan Atkinson to the channel as Maigret. His superb performance, and the filmic execution from the production team ensured the audience greatly appreciated the first Maigret film which aired earlier this year.”

The two new films are actually the third and fourth in ITV’s Maigret series. Maigret’s Dead Man, based on Maigret et son mort, has already been filmed and will air on ITV later this year.

George Clooney (photo by Georges Biard)
George Clooney (photo by Georges Biard)

The recommission is also good news for BBC Worldwide, the show’s international distributor. Broadcasters including France 3, ARD Germany and TV4 Sweden have picked up the first two films.

In other news, Sonar Entertainment has entered into a first-look deal with Smokehouse Pictures, the independent production company founded by George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

The first project under the new arrangement is America’s Most Admired Lawbreaker, based on a serialised Huffington Post article by Steven Brill. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos (Making a Murderer) will adapt alongside Nicki Paluga, with Ricciardi and Demos directing.

America’s Most Admired Lawbreaker is the true story of a venerable pharmaceutical company that created a powerful drug and marketed it aggressively to children and the elderly while allegedly manipulating and hiding data about its terrible side effects. The drug company was investigated and agreed to pay more than US$2bn in penalties and settlements, but made a reported US$30bn from sales of the drug worldwide.

“We couldn’t be more excited to be in business with George and Grant and their talented team at Smokehouse,” said Sonar Entertainment CEO Thomas Lesinski. “Smokehouse has a stellar track record of delivering commercial and critically acclaimed content. It will be a great partner for Sonar Entertainment, as the two companies align perfectly in our approaches to premium TV programming.”

The deal is another significant step into the TV business for Smokehouse Pictures, which is better-known for its movie output (The Men Who Stare at Goats, Monuments Men, Argo, Money Monster). Other television titles coming out of Smokehouse include Ms, a miniseries about Gloria Steinem and the founding of Ms Magazine, set up at HBO, and The Studio, an ongoing series about a movie studio in the 1990s, set up at Showtime.

Richard Roxburgh in the original Blue Murder
Richard Roxburgh in the original Blue Murder

The deal is also a coup for Sonar, which already has a number of hotly anticipated series coming through. Current series on air, in production or slated to commence production include season two of The Shannara Chronicles, for MTV; Taboo, starring Tom Hardy, for FX and BBC One; The Son, for AMC; and Mr Mercedes with AT&T’s Audience Network for DirecTV and AT&T U-verse.

Meanwhile, Seven Network in Australia has begun production on a sequel to Blue Murder, a miniseries that aired way back in 1995 on public broadcaster ABC.

The original miniseries starred Richard Roxburgh as real-life disgraced policeman Roger ‘The Dodger’ Rogerson. Roxburgh will again play Rogerson, who was convicted of killing university student Jamie Gao just last week. That ruling is reported to have triggered production of the sequel, which had been sitting in development for two years.

In further interesting news this week, the BBC is poised to debut its supernatural drama The Living and the Dead on its on-demand platform iPlayer. All six episodes of the show, created by Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars), have been available to watch since Friday (June 17). The episodes will then receive a weekly airing starting from Tuesday, June 28 at 21.00. The BBC has rolled out a similar release for Anthony Horowitz’s new drama New Blood, which became the first BBC primetime drama  to debut episodes online.

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Ashley Pharoah

As Life on Mars creator Ashley Pharoah prepares to return to BBC1 with ‘eerie’ drama The Living and the Dead, he tells DQ about the six shows that have inspired his career in television.

Ashley Pharoah (pictured above alongside The Living and the Dead producer Eliza Mellor (left) and script editor Katie Kelly) broke into television on the back of British series including EastEnders, Casualty and Silent Witness. Other credits include Where the Heart Is, Bonekickers, Eternal Law and Wild At Heart, but it’s for time-travel series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes that the writer is best known.

In Pharoah’s new BBC1 series The Living and the Dead, Nathan and Charlotte Appleby (played by Colin Morgan and Charlotte Spencer) inherit a farmhouse in 1894 Somerset. But their presence begins to unleash strange, unsettling and dangerous supernatural phenomena that will threaten their marriage.

Produced by Pharoah and Life on Mars co-creator Matthew Graham’s Monastic Productions and BBC Wales Drama, the six-part drama will be available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer as of tomorrow, ahead of its terrestrial launch on June 28. It will also air on BBC America.

Here, Pharoah tells DQ about the six television dramas that inspired him to become a writer and have shaped his own career.

roadstofreedomThe Roads to Freedom (BBC)
I watched The Roads to Freedom in 1976 when it was already a repeat (having originally aired in 1970). It was a BBC adaptation of John-Paul Sartre’s novels – there’s a pitch that wouldn’t get made these days! But since then it’s been buried – it’s not on DVD – but it has a huge fanbase online. I was 16 and living in a very dull village in North Somerset and suddenly I was watching this series set in Paris during the Second World War and the Occupation. There were beautiful Russian girls and characters stabbing themselves, and it was very exciting.
If you read the books, which I went on to do, the challenge of adapting them must have been massive. David Turner took on the task, and they had things like a character’s voice of consciousness recreated as a voiceover on the soundtrack, which I’d certainly never seen back then, and even now it would be a quite radical thing to do. Michael Bryant played the lead and it had a beautiful theme song sung by Georgia Brown. It was a very distinct TV drama that I’m not sure you’d get away with now. So, as a teenager, it made me think about TV drama for the first time. I always wanted to be a writer but it was the first inkling that I fancied doing something like that.

The-Singing-DetectiveThe Singing Detective
Every now and again I do talks or a bit of teaching to students, and someone always asks, ‘Is screenwriting real writing, or is the art really about the directing?’ I always tell them to read the scripts and then watch The Singing Detective (1986) by Dennis Potter, which is probably his masterpiece. I grew up in the Forest of Dean, in the South West, so you always pay more attention to pieces from where you’re from. I remember watching this and it blew me away.
On paper, the plot must appear quite dry. The main character, writer Philip E Marlow, has a chronic skin disease but refuses treatment so his mind starts throwing him into a trash Raymond Chandler novel called The Singing Detective. It was so beautifully written, deeply moving, sexy, funny and complex. I remember thinking at the time, ‘This is TV drama as art.’ It’s as good as any novel or movie. British writers like me who have come along since Potter owe him an enormous debt for making what we do seem part of the cultural conversation. He is, for me, the greatest TV dramatist and The Singing Detective is his greatest work.

verypeculiarpracticeA Very Peculiar Practice (BBC)
While I was a student at the National Film School, its name was changed to the National Film and Television School. All of us students were absolutely appalled because we wanted to make movies, while television was the spawn of Satan and none of us were remotely interested in it. Then, coming home, I vividly remember watching A Very Peculiar Practice – I didn’t really watch much television in those days. Written by Andrew Davies, it debuted in 1986 and centred on a modern campus where an idealistic young doctor played by Peter Davidson arrives at the university medical centre.
There are some things television does much better than film, one of which is locating a moment in culture. A Very Peculiar Practice was a forensic look at British society at that time but done with tremendous wit and humour. The dominant British television dramas have always been about social realism and this comes from that other tradition of high-concept and more surreal series, yet somehow this show seemed tremendously accurate. I like series that mix up tone and genre, and although A Very Peculiar Practice was quite a political piece about Thatcherism and the NHS, it was screamingly funny and surreal, which again was outside the main tradition of British television. It’s very funny and brilliantly written. Andrew Davies (War & Peace) is a great adapter, probably the best we’ve ever had, but I do miss his original work.

State-of-Play-copyState of Play (BBC1)
One thing all these series have in common is a great writer at their heart – and, of my contemporaries, Paul Abbott is the standout. By the time his show State of Play came out in 2003, I was a professional television writer myself but I still watched it with my mouth open in awe and wonder because it’s so brilliantly written. It has a crop of British actors who all seemed to bubble up at the same time – John Simm, James McAvoy, Philip Glenister and Marc Warren.
Although it works brilliantly as a political thriller – it’s so intense and exciting – it’s a very precise evocation of the political and media class in London at the turn of the century, especially with David Morrissey’s performance as a New Labour MP losing his last vestiges of idealism. Like The Singing Detective, it was TV drama elevated to art and Paul Abbott, probably more than any other TV writer, made us all raise our game because he’s so brilliant and he can deliver in so many different genres. He’s incredibly, ferociously intelligent but also very accessible. If you’d told me when State of Play aired that I’d go on to make Life of Mars with John, I’d have been very happy. I also worked with Marc Warren on Hustle. They became part of my gang but that was the first time I’d seen that group of actors.

The-Wire-1The Wire (HBO)
I came to The Wire (2002), written and created by David Simon, a bit late. I missed it when it first came out and then, annoyed by everyone telling me how wonderful it was, I started to dislike it despite having never seen a frame of it. I picked up the boxset and I remember watching the first couple of episodes and thinking, ‘It doesn’t really work.’ I couldn’t get it – and then a friend said I should turn on the subtitles, because the Baltimore accent is so impenetrable until you get used to the rhythms of the language. So I did that and suddenly, by episode four, I was completely hooked and I watched episode after episode.
What’s really interesting about The Wire is that it’s not perfect. There are episodes and entire seasons that aren’t as good as others, yet it didn’t seem to matter. It feels like a massive, sprawling novel, sometimes just by the sheer vivacity of the writing and the brilliant cast – who knew most of them were British? Although I’d never been to Baltimore, it reeked of authenticity, and there was something about the writing that had this simmering anger beneath it. It was never polemical, it was just there. The fact that the police were no better than the drug dealers, who were no better than the dock workers, made it a superb piece of work. It again raised the game of television drama all over the world.
What I admire about The Wire’s writing, especially, is that it was clearly not just a job. It’s not just a genre piece about cops. There’s complete passion and anger and detail in it. It’s screenwriting and television filmmaking aspiring to be as good as anything. That certainly wasn’t true when I started. Television was very much the poor man’s art form – lots of middle-class people would proudly tell you they didn’t have televisions, but that’s gone now. People now talk about television drama in a very different way and I think some of these series affected that.

Friday-Night-Lights-s1-castFriday Night Lights (NBC)
I was thinking about the great American cable shows of our time – they nearly all have dark, complicated male protagonists like Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Nucky Thompson. Friday Night Lights’ story of a town’s obsession with its high-school football team has a marriage at its centre – the coach and his wife (played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) – but what was really brave about the writing and the acting was that in that marriage, they didn’t go for any soap tropes. They don’t sleep around, they don’t murder anybody; they just try to love each other and look after their families and the students and football players they’re entrusted with.
There are no monsters in that show, they’re just decent people trying to live decent lives in Dillon, Texas. Although there is tragedy and disappointment for individual characters, there was a sense of love and community that is quite unusual in these cynical TV times we live in.
I love American cable television – shows like True Detective, with all its bleakness and darkness – but Friday Night Lights (2006) punched through. It’s so warm and intelligent, and I remember when I signed with my American agent at CAA, they said if I were an American writer, I’d write Friday Night Lights. I then went away and watched it and thought it was a huge compliment.
One of the differences between the US and the UK is we haven’t really got an equivalent to college football. You point a camera at those little towns in Texas and they look so cinematic but our equivalent would probably be a rugby team in the Rhonnda. I would love to translate the sense of community and the warmth of that show. It’s quite a hard thing to do but I’m sure someone will get it right. And it will be a monster.

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