Tag Archives: Tim Haines

Loch and load

A new ITV drama finds its name and setting in Scotland’s Loch Ness, where the only monsters are the ones lurking on land. DQ chats to the cast about crime series The Loch.

When actors Siobhan Finneran and Laura Fraser (pictured left and right respectively above) are asked to describe their time on The Loch, they both recall the same experience from filming the six-part crime drama.

“I absolutely love Siobhan — she’s a scream,” Fraser says. “We laughed so much that I think it got really annoying for the crew. At first it’s good because it’s a nice atmosphere and people are giggling. But we just couldn’t get it done half the time! Take after take, I just couldn’t stop laughing.”

“We were very giggly,” Finneran adds. “We were surprised they got any footage with both of us in shot at the same time when we’re not laughing. They must have hours of outtakes of us roaring with laughter, which is not good when the subject matter is so serious.”

As Finneran suggests, their illustration of a relaxed, harmonious atmosphere on set – both in studios outside Glasgow and on location in the Scottish Highlands – is at odds with the tense, edgy tone on screen, where the search for a serial killer grips a small community living beside the beautiful but haunting Loch Ness.

John Sessions plays DCI Frank Smilie

Fraser plays local detective Annie Redford, who is enjoying a day off when a man’s body is found at the bottom of a mountain and a human heart washes up on the loch’s shore. Under the watchful eye of her boss, DCI Frank Smilie (John Sessions), Annie begins to feel the strain of her first murder case when DCI Lauren Quigley (Finneran) arrives to lead the investigation.

Commissioned by ITV in the UK, The Loch is written by Stephen Brady (Fortitude, Vera). The executive producer is Tim Haines, the producer is Willy J Wands, and Brian Kelly and Cilla Ware direct. The series is produced by ITV Studios and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Finneran has been a regular fixture on British TV recently, with credits including The Moorside, Happy Valley and a three-season turn as the scheming maid Sarah O’Brien in Downton Abbey. As for The Loch, which debuts on Sunday June 11, the actor says she was drawn in by the murder mystery at its heart – and the chance to play a police officer for the first time in more than a decade.

“I really enjoyed reading the scripts, and sometimes that is a big green light to me,” she says. “Sometimes with scripts, you can lose the will to live after a couple of pages, or you just think, ‘This is not for me,’ or you can’t see yourself in the role.

“With this one, I enjoyed reading it and I was also delighted it would be shot in Glasgow, because I’d never been. So it was lovely to be able to go up there –  I fell in love with Glasgow and its people. I loved the architecture. If it didn’t rain more than it does in Manchester [where she is based], I could live there because I loved it so much. But it does rain all the time!”

Finneran (left) and Fraser admit they had a hard time controlling their ‘giggling’ on set

Finneran describes her character as an outsider who comes in and takes over – a move that doesn’t sit well with Sessions’ DCI Smilie, with whom Quigley shares a chequered history.

“How I play a character usually comes from conversations I have with the director and the producer, and sometimes the writer,” she explains. “But I tend to find clues in the script as to who she is, and they’ll come either from her lines or something other characters say about her. With The Loch I’ve got quite a wealth of that, even in the first episode. She’s got some cracking lines, and John Sessions’ character has a history with her, so before I’ve even been introduced on screen, somebody’s already given their description and opinion of the character. That’s how I tend to work; I didn’t have input into how she was written at all but I do pick up clues in the script.”

Having made her name in the US on shows such as Breaking Bad and Black Box, it’s been a busy couple of years back in the UK for Scottish actor Fraser. She appeared in ITV feature-length drama Peter & Wendy and BBC shows One of Us and The Missing before filming The Loch last summer.

“I’m starting to think I can solve crimes now,” she jokes, having previously played police officers in both One of Us and The Missing. “I enjoy playing them because it gives you another context – as well as your emotional drama, you have this other thing going on.

“In The Loch, I liked the idea that Annie’s a newbie. She’s been working all her life but never really moved up the ranks; she’s made certain decisions that have kept her from moving up, so there’s a pent-up potential that is verging on bitterness. She’s teetering on the edge of being furious at herself. I liked that idea, and the fact her first murder case becomes this serial killer investigation is pretty overwhelming.”

Fraser is perhaps best known to international viewers for her stint as Lydia on Breaking Bad

Fraser describes the series’ Scottish Highlands setting as a “stunning” backdrop to the events that unfold within this close-knit community.

“You’d think I’d have been to Loch Ness, as a Scottish person, but I hadn’t ever visited,” the actor admits. “It’s beautiful. It’s quite interesting the fact it was built on a fault line, so while there are ruptures in the land, there are also ruptures in the community [in the series]. It’s like this paper-thin veneer of civilisation is ripped apart, and the ruptures are felt in my character’s family. It’s all very exciting! It’s interesting, this idea of things lurking just beneath the surface, whether that’s metaphorically or physically.”

Completing The Loch’s leading line-up is Sessions, who has enjoyed a long career in film and TV, with small-screen credits including Sherlock and Outlander. But when it comes to choosing his next role, he admits that unless you happen to be Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, “you do what comes along.”

The Loch, however, was “a very good piece” and, as he hadn’t previously appeared in a TV drama revolving around a serial killer, he was keen to join the production.

“Nobody thought of me for Broadchurch, Shetland or the others,” he says, before adding that he’s not too comfortable with the dark subjects often at the centre of television shows. “It slightly disquiets me that a huge amount of drama now is to do with murder, rape, torture and child-targeted crimes and that becomes the bread and butter of television. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy.

The Loch launches on ITV in the UK this Sunday

“It was great to be in these incredible locations [for The Loch] and to be playing Frank – you cross all the boxes with him. He is sexist and is capable of telling a pretty obscene story. Then along comes not only a woman [Finneran’s Quigley] but a woman he’s had a professional embarrassment with some years before. We gleam fairly rapidly that the friction between them is engendered by the fact she knows he fucked up rather badly [in the past] and she saved his arse, and he doesn’t like that he’s beholden to this woman.”

Sessions is also full of praise for lead director Kelly, who runs “a very relaxed but very tight ship.”

“He has a wonderful sense, which is particularly important on a show like this, for knowing exactly what your character is thinking at that moment. Brian is one of those guys who can keep that all in his head,” he says.

“We progressed more or less chronologically through the story, which was good. Obviously you’re also trying to play little moments where your character is looking uncomfortable and you want viewers to wonder whether that’s because he’s guilty or because he’s a bit remiss. You try to suggest ambiguity. It’s also tricky because you’re trying to suggest this and that are possible while at the same time maintaining an overall logic to the likelihood of what is going to happen.”

Finneran points out that, despite the show’s content, the cast and crew kept things light on set. “The subject matter might be serious and we might have big dramatic things to do but we didn’t take ourselves seriously and were always up for a bit of fun,” she says. “Sometimes you do just question what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s a ridiculous day – you’re stood looking at bits of bodies and you wonder, how do people actually do this? We’re pretending.

“I can absolutely leave things at work. I can take a bad day home with me if I don’t feel like I’ve done a scene as well as I’d hoped or if something’s gone wrong, but that’s not taking the show home with me, just my disappointment. And you can have draining days, where the subject matter has been exhausting, but they tend to be days where you’re very emotionally charged. And a lot of the time you’re just exhausted. But I didn’t have any of those days on this.”

But while she has been enjoying a fruitful period on screen over the past few years, Finneran recognises that not all actors have the same opportunities.

“For the past 10 years, I’ve been very lucky and worked on some incredible dramas,” she adds. “But if you’d talk to a couple of [actor] mates of mine, they’d say it’s a shocking situation to be in. I just have to think myself very lucky that I’m working. There is good stuff being made all the time – I just don’t watch it!”

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Starz Powers ahead but drops its Sails

Power is going from strength to strength
Power is going from strength to strength

As of this week, US premium cable network Starz has started airing original series on Sunday nights instead of Saturdays. The move appears to have been a good one, with the debut episode of Power’s third season setting a new viewing record.

The show, which tells the story of a charismatic club owner who leads a double life as the head of a powerful drug-dealing business, attracted 2.26 million viewers, significantly up on the 1.54 million who viewed the finale of the second run.

The previous record for a premiere episode on Starz was 1.46 million, for the second season opener of period adventure Outlander.

As soon as the rating news was in, Starz announced it had commissioned two more seasons of Power, which stars Omari Hardwick and was created by Courtney Kemp Agboh – with Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson also on board as an executive producer.

Commenting on the news, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said: “In today’s content landscape, it is challenging for a series to stand out, but Courtney is a singular voice working in television today. In Curtis, we not only have an immense talent but an executive producer who brings a unique perspective, an authentic voice and passionate fan base that has helped propel the success of the series. The fans have let it be known loud and clear that they cannot get enough of [main characters] Ghost, Tommy, Tasha, Angela and Kanan.”

Black Sails' end is on the horizon
Black Sails’ end is on the horizon

There was mixed news for Starz pirate drama Black Sails, however. The show, which is a prequel to Treasure Island, has been given the green light for a fourth season of 10 episodes – but that season will also be its last.

Black Sails co-creator and executive producer Jonathan E Steinberg said: “It’s a rare privilege in television to be given the kind of creative freedom we’ve enjoyed on this show over the last four years. While it was a difficult decision to make this season our last, we couldn’t imagine anything beyond it that would make for a better ending to the story nor a more natural handoff to Treasure Island.”

Overall, Black Sails will be remembered as a success for Starz, building on the work done by The Pillars of the Earth, Spartacus and Camelot. The show is the first Starz original series to have got as far as four seasons, averaging 3.6 million viewers per episode along the way. It has won two Emmys, achieved an 8.2 rating on IMDb and has been licensed to 130 countries, including a deal with A+E Networks in the UK.

So the question now is whether the network will go in search of another period adventure to fill the gap – or whether the recent Lionsgate deal will point it in a new direction.

San Diego Comic-Con got underway on Thursday and runs through until Sunday. A hugely important date in the entertainment industry calendar, it is an opportunity for film and TV producers to build buzz around their projects by connecting directly with hardcore fans.

Luke Cage is the next addition to Netflix's Marvel titles
Luke Cage is the next addition to Netflix’s Marvel titles, launching on September 30

Historically regarded as a gathering for geeks, it is now an unmissable event for anyone interested or working in the sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, horror and adventure genres.

At time of writing, the headlines definitely belonged to Star Trek Beyond, the latest movie in the iconic sci-fi franchise. Not only did it put on a spectacular show in San Diego, but Paramount Studios has approved plans for another film.

In parallel, there’s also a huge amount of interest in the new Star Trek TV series, which launches on CBS’s subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the US in January. This week CBS revealed that it has now licensed the show (and the extensive Star Trek back catalogue) to SVoD giant Netflix for the international market.

Netflix will be able to stream the show just one day after it has debuted on CBS All Access.

Coming off the back of this summer’s movie launch, there’s no question the TV series will be one of the highlights of 2017. “Star Trek is already a worldwide phenomenon and this international partnership will provide fans around the world, who have been craving a new series for more than a decade, the opportunity to see every episode virtually at the same time as viewers in the US,” said Armando Nunez, president and CEO of CBS Global Distribution Group. “The new Star Trek will definitely be hailing on all frequencies throughout the planet.”

Jordskott is being adapted into English by Amazon
Jordskott is being adapted into English by Amazon

Netflix is also at Comic-Con to promote its partnership with Marvel and gave fans a brief introduction to Luke Cage, the central character of a new superhero series coming on September 30. Luke Cage joins existing Netflix Marvel series Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

Earlier this week, in our Greenlight column, we looked at the success of Australian prison drama Wentworth on the international market. Now there is more good news for the show following reports that Australia’s Foxtel has ordered a fifth season for its SoHo channel. FremantleMedia Australia will start production on 12 episodes in Melbourne next month.

Foxtel head of drama Penny Win said: “Wentworth has gone from strength to strength over the past four seasons. It is a ratings blockbuster and fan favourite for Foxtel audiences. It was a very easy decision to commission a further season of this brilliantly constructed and crafted programme. There is a lot in store both for the women behind bars and those on the outside.”

There was also good news for Scandinavian drama Jordskott this week, with DQ sister title C21 reporting that it is to be adapted into English by Amazon for its Prime Video service. That news came just after Sony Pictures Television took a stake in Palladium Fiction, the Swedish production company behind the original show.

Loch Ness will star Laura Fraser (photo: Ian West/PA Wire)
Loch Ness will star Laura Fraser
(photo: Ian West/PA Wire)

A 10-part thriller with supernatural overtones, Jordskott debuted on SVT in February 2015 and was then picked up for distribution by ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVSGE). ITVSGE sold the show around the world, including to ITV Encore in the UK, and Palladium is now in development on a second season with SVT.

Another show creating a buzz on the international market this week is ITV’s new six-part murder mystery Loch Ness, also distributed by ITVSGE. Despite the fact it has only just started filming in Scotland, it has been picked up by NBCUniversal International Networks for broadcast on its 13th Street pay TV channel in France, Spain, Germany and Poland in 2017.

One possible explanation for the early pick-up is that Loch Ness stars Scottish actor Laura Fraser – a familiar face to many viewers thanks to her excellent turn as the neurotic Lydia in Breaking Bad. The show is written by Stephen Brady (Fortitude) and executive produced by ITV Studios creative director and executive producer Tim Haines (Beowulf).

Loch Ness was commissioned by ITV controller of drama Victoria Fea and head of drama series Jane Hudson, with support from Creative Scotland’s Production Growth Fund. Fea commented: “Loch Ness is a gripping, tightly plotted drama that focuses on how a serial killer terrifies a local community. Stephen Brady’s compelling scripts utilise the wilderness of Loch Ness perfectly.”

Haines added: “Serial killers are monsters that lie beneath the surface of normal happy communities. Where better to hunt for one than in a place that has thrived off its own monster myth for centuries – Loch Ness.”

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Poetry in motion

DQ goes behind the scenes on ITV’s Beowulf, based on the epic poem.

It’s described as an epic re-imagining of one of literature’s greatest and most enduring heroes. UK broadcaster ITV’s forthcoming drama Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands is a western set in a place populated by both humans and fantastical creatures during the Dark Ages of Britain.

The first episode, due to debut on the network in 2016, follows Beowulf who, after spending years as a mercenary warrior, returns to Herot to pay his respects to the recently deceased Thane, Hrothgar – the man who raised him. But when Herot is attacked by the monster Grendl, Beowulf has no choice but to hunt it down, in turn winning favour with Herot’s new female Thane and the wider community.

So begins a series about courage, greed, betrayal, revenge, loyalty, power and love, featuring fights, chases, raids and battles filmed on a sprawling set built in the north east of England.

The Beowulf set was constructed within a quarry
The Beowulf set was constructed within a quarry

Writer James Dormer executive produces with ITV Studios creative director of drama Tim Haines (Primeval, Sinbad) and ITV Studios executive producer of drama Katie Newman (Primeval: New World). ITV Studios Global Entertainment is distributing the show.

But just how was this sweeping 13-part drama – which is based on a 3,000-line poem written sometime around the 11th century – brought to life?

Before pitching the series to ITV, Newman wrote a five-season arc showing where the story could go, setting out characters and, importantly, designing a map that imagined the layout of the Shieldlands.

She says: “I was very surprised by the poem’s depth of character and how relevant it is considering how old it is, and just what a great story it is. Both Tim and I liked the world and wondered how to make it into a television show. Although the poem has a certain feel and tone we connected with, we used it as a jumping-off point to then be free to imagine from there.”

Newman says the key to Beowulf’s development was thinking about westerns, with Beowulf returning to a town he left as a child and becoming the sheriff: “Tim and I both got excited because suddenly it all made sense – a frontier town where there’s danger from outside and within.

“We then set about creating the world beyond Herot. Everything grew from there. And because we didn’t want to be historically accurate, the advantage of fantasy is that it allows you freedom.”

Haines describes Beowulf as a classic hero: “He’s the original hero in many ways. For western fantasy, Beowulf is where it all started. He was a name for a hero that becomes the core of heroic fantasy in western storytelling.

“The original Beowulf would be a boastful, sexist, arrogant murderer but we had to give him more nuance. He’s a Beowulf you can recognise and identify with now.”

A sketch of the 'smelting area'...
A sketch of the ‘smelting area’…

To build the world of the Shieldlands for television, Haines says it was important to have a central location. “Building a new destination every episode would mean you’d be bankrupt by episode four, so you need to come back to a place. That fits with the idea of home, which is very strong for our character. You want the audience to feel that every week they’re escaping to somewhere. Every drama builds a world, but with ours it’s everything you point a camera at – you have to build the towns, find the wilderness and dress everyone and everything.”

As such, finding a filming location that could present a number of different landscapes was vital. “We wanted it to feel bigger than the couple of kilometres we were filming in so we had mountain people, forest people and nomadic horse people,” says Newman. “The advantage of filming in Northumberland is that it gives you a rather incredible range of landscapes. We tried to make it feel bigger to make it feel epic.”

Haines, who says the production would have shot in Ireland had it not been for English tax breaks, adds: “What I liked about Northumberland is England gets thinner. You go from highlands and moorlands to the coast very quickly though lots of different environments. For a show like this where you want to go to a different place on the map in each episode, you want it to feel different. It’s difficult if you’re in the middle of rural southern England where it doesn’t change that much.”

Central to building the world of Beowulf were costume designer Ralph Wheeler-Holes and production designer Grant Montgomery.

...and the finished product
…and the finished product

Wheeler-Holes says that although creating clothing for a world of myth and fantasy might sound easy, the impact of the Lord of the Rings film franchise and HBO drama Game of Thrones meant it was important Beowulf should stand apart from them, limiting what he could do. “It was helpful that the executive producers were insistent that the series was not driven by period accuracy but rather by the show’s own sense of style, freeing things up massively,” he says.

The drama is set between 800-900AD in a world similar to the frontier towns of American westerns, so Wheeler-Holes found mixing western themes with those of fantasy as a fun place to start. “Colours are important to me as a designer, allowing a shorthand to be created to link or distance people in the minds of an audience,” he explains. “When looking at a family show like Beowulf, things need to be simplified so that character traits for groups of people can be recognised by all age groups. Put simply, the tribes of the Shieldlands are all colour-coded – green, blue, red, saffron, black… We can recognise who is from where and who their allegiances are to.”

He adds: “Working with the actors, directors and producers to come up with costumes that everybody loves on a show like Beowulf is challenging and rewarding in equal measure. It has been a joy creating a world in which the characters, I hope, wear clothes rather than costumes. One in which you can almost smell the people and one which we’d all, secretly, love to be a part of.”

For production designer Montgomery, Beowulf offered a unique opportunity to create a world from scratch, including sets, furniture, banners, wagons, shields, weapons, glass and pottery. He says his influences ranged from the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and production designer Ken Adam (James Bond franchise) to painter Gustav Klimt, as well as 1960s epics such as Cleopatra and Spartacus.

The town of Herot included a giant exterior of Hrothgar’s mead hall (the interior of which is covered with gold), assorted buildings, smelting pits that all begin to smoke at the touch of a button, walkways, a troll arena and a ‘Wheel of Pain’ that is turned by the trolls.

“This was a massive undertaking in design and build terms and took 18 weeks to complete from blueprint stage to finished build,” explains Montgomery. “It was built through the late autumn and winter of 2014 to April 2015. High winds and snow storms hindered the build but a brilliant construction team led by Paul Ward and art director Nick Wilkinson completed the enormous task.

“I designed the town to reflect how the wealth of Herot is bound up with the sweat and labour of many in the smelting pits, so that the audience could relate the two sides of the town.”

Built in a disused quarry, the mead hall set is 35ft high and 150ft long. Wolf heads and columns were sculpted and cast from moulds, while furniture ranging from Hrothgar’s bed to the glassware were made in Europe and Morocco.

Montgomery says Beowulf’s hut, in particular, was one of his favourite sets. “All the shields adorning the walls were designed to represent the separate tribes that inhabit the Shieldlands, along with the troll heads that represent past conquests. The shields and troll heads were sculpted and cast into a lightweight silicon rubber and expanded foam. The whole feel was to create a sheriff jail as if it were a cross between a western and a viking town.”

The crew also constructed a mead hall
The crew also constructed a mead hall

Beyond the sets and costumes, CGI also plays an important role in the series. Haines says that although there are creatures, Beowulf isn’t a “monster of the week” series, and he’s keen to stress that while fantastical in many ways, this isn’t a magic show.

“In a world-building sense, we’re developing a fauna. The original occupants of the Shieldlands were giants and a whole ecology of what humans call ‘mud born.’ They’re this fantastical group of creatures,” he explains. “These creatures go from wolves up to giants and skin-shifters who are as intelligent as human beings. In season one, you see probably half a dozen. They appear in different shows and they are niche. Their identity becomes more established as you go along.

“Trolls are more sophisticated, gorilla-like creatures that are capable of limited communication. The skin-shifters were the old druids, the priestly class who hate the humans. But there’s no magic in this show. The closest we get is the skin-shifters can change form. That goes back to an idea that people can shape-shift, which is very much of the Dark Ages and, therefore, allowable in our story. Otherwise everything is flesh and blood. There are no wizards or magicians.

“There was a feeling from ITV that they didn’t want another magic show. This is a brutally real series. It makes it easier to stick to the rules. The point of magic is there are no rules. It’s like Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver – if you’ve got something that can get you out of trouble like that, where’s the excitement? Whereas if you’re in a fight with a troll, you’d be lucky to step away alive. We wanted to give our creatures biological parameters that make them believable to the audience, just as the characters themselves are believable.”

Ultimately, if it is to become a major international hit, creating a series on the scale of Beowulf demands a sizeable budget, and both Haines and Newman hope viewers will see the vast majority of the money on screen.

Haines says: “This is the sort of programme that ITV is making to compete with popular, internationally successful shows. It’s no good saying ‘we’ll give you £1m (US$1.5m) per episode’ when everything you’re competing with, even if it’s a modern US love story, is probably US$2.5m an hour.

“If you’re competing with Game of Thrones, it’s disingenuous to suggest you’re going to have a big success unless you’re prepared to spend a bit more money. As a producer, you just have to make sure the money appears on screen.”

The Beowulf cast tell Michael Pickard why the new ITV drama isn’t just a monster show, while costume designer Ralph Wheeler Holes reveals the thinking behind the main characters’ get-ups.

Riding horses, sword fights and battles with monsters was all in a day’s work for the cast as they filmed ITV’s forthcoming fantasy drama, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands.

But for Kieran Bew, Joanne Whalley and Ed Speleers there was more to the appeal of starring in the show than the chance to put their physical skills to the test.

CostumeRhedaBew, who stars as the titular character, says: “The appeal for me was what (exec producer) James Dormer had taken from the original poem and run with to create this world. For me personally, as Beowulf, he’d created this backstory that felt very real, very rich and different to the poem. It retained a lot of those core elements but he’d added something in it that was much more enigmatic.

“We’d talked about the difficulties faced by someone who becomes so notorious for being a great warrior and what kind of trouble that attracts. That infamy isn’t necessarily useful in such a dangerous place that’s not just full of monsters but is also very rough to live in – this western-like place where, if you leave the safety of these small towns and go outside, there’s so much that’s unpredictable, which makes for a lot of drama.

“In our show, Beowulf is a reluctant hero and a conflicted, troubled guy who I thought was very real and incredibly exciting to play. And the other characters that have been added also felt very real.”

For Speleers, previously seen in Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall, the appeal lay not only in his character Slean but also in the ambition of the project.

“Slean is a very torn young man, full of turmoil. He doesn’t really know his place. Everything he believed was going to unfold for him hasn’t. He was meant to be made thane by birthright but that’s been stripped away. Instead, his mother, with whom he has an incredibly close bond, has taken that mantel, and that’s another way for his father Hrothgar to stick the knife in from beyond the grave, almost to cause more problems for Slean.

CostumeBeowulf“He also has this very tough relationship with Beowulf, because he came in when they were both young boys and essentially stole Hrothgar’s affection, which downgraded Slean and pushed him into the gutter even more. So he is angry and full of rage, but he’s also conflicted because there’s a real tenderness to him, and there are certain female characters that bring this tenderness out of him.

“The other thing that enticed me early on was the ambition. It was the balls of it. It’s been a really intense and, at times, tough shoot, but I remember the first time I went up to Herot, the township. It’s a massive set they built on top of the Pennines in a disused quarry and it’s epic. It’s relentless. It’s so much fun but there’s no time to think about it, it’s just constant.”

Whalley, who has starred in The Borgias and Wolf Hall, says she enjoyed the western element of the series, characterised by Beowulf’s return to his childhood home to become leader.

“What I really enjoy about the whole thing is that everyone is not as simple as you might first think,” she explains. “Everyone has backstory, everyone’s conflicted. I particularly liked the whole western element of it, but even that’s quite modern because, when you look at the world as a whole, it’s man and the wild and how we’re encroaching on it.”

The size and scale of the purpose-built set also took on a character of its own, creating new challenges for the cast to overcome.

CostumeSlean1“The weather in the quarry will change every half an hour,” reveals Bew. “When we rehearse, you look at the clouds and you say, ‘In 40 minutes we’re going to be in the cloud.’ It doesn’t pass overhead, it’s around you and you’re in it. There’s nowhere to hide. The quarry has this fantastic cliff edge that’s teeming with life and then the clouds come in and drop over the cliff like ghosts and come in around you. It’s incredible to work in a place like that.”

The presence of monsters in the Shieldlands – from shapeshifters to trolls – meant the cast were also challenged to act opposite something rather less scary.

“When you’re fighting a monster, sometimes you’re actually fighting a man in a green suit. Then they take him away and you do the same scene again without that guy there,” explains Bew. “The acting with the green thing is not that hard – it’s when they take it away and you’ve got to imagine the green thing and imagine it grabbing you (that it can be difficult).

“We’ve got 30 to 60 people working on all the CGI in this show. It’s hugely ambitious to make all these monsters and they’re really delivering on it. It’s phenomenal – for TV, for the speed we film, the action, the sword fights, the horse riding, the turnover, the terrain. Everything has to be considered, and the crew are just heroes.”

CostumeBrecaWhalley has been equally impressed by the crew: “It was a really special unit. They delivered big time. The first time we saw the promo was at the wrap party and we were all blown away. We couldn’t believe what we had achieved.”

As the leading man, Bew says he faced several personal challenges, such as learning to ride a horse, and suffered a few knocks during the shoot.

“I broke three ribs in week three,” he reveals. “All the running and riding in episode two, that’s real pain. Funnily enough, I could ride the horse OK – it was getting on and off (that was hard). Similarly, lying in bed at night was incredibly painful. So shooting a scene where I’m lying on the ground and seeing this creature and I have to get off the ground really quickly, that was probably the most challenging physical thing I did on the show, which is ridiculous. I do leap off the horse a few times and jump on things.”

Undoubtedly, the ambition of Beowulf – from the scale of the set to the 13-episode order – is something rarely seen on British television, and Speleers says the show is perfectly pitched for families to watch together: “I don’t think we’ve had anything like this for a family audience. There are things that are relatable, there are strong morals and there’s conflict, which is going to be great for a family audience to watch.”

Whalley notes: “If you’re seven, you’re going to watch it and be more into the swords and the trolls, but if you’re not seven, there’s so much more, there are so many layers.”

Bew says the challenge of producing 13 episodes of television has been noticeable but praised ITV’s ambition and “bravery.”

“TV is international now,” he adds. “Everybody’s plugged in and everybody’s turning into TV junkies. It’s amazing how with shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Shield and Mad Men, the lead characters are conflicted people who do despicable acts but you can’t help but stay with them and live with them, and you want to see more and empathise with them. It’s such a phenomenal time for TV.”

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About Time: How to make time travel work on TV

DQ looks at the latest dramas to incorporate time travel into their storylines, and asks those behind the programmes exactly how they tackle a plot device that so often lends itself to confusion and complications.

Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist whose life was the subject of recent award-winning movie The Theory of Everything, hasn’t ruled out time travel completely. But he’s pretty sceptical about our ability to travel back in time and change or participate in events that have already happened.

His doubts were summarised succinctly in his 1998 book A Brief History of Time, in which he asked, quite reasonably, “If time travel is possible, where are the tourists from the future?”

Hawking’s concerns haven’t, however, stopped the TV business from dabbling in time travel. In recent years, a wide array of shows, ranging from hardcore science fiction to historical romance, have used time travel as a central narrative device.

Hindsight takes its main character back in time on the eve of her wedding

A case in point is Hindsight – recently cancelled despite initially being handed a second season – the VH1 scripted series about a woman (Becca) who finds herself propelled back in time while wrestling with doubts on the eve of her second wedding.

But there are no wormholes, extra dimensions or warp drives in Hindsight, says show creator Emily Fox, who explains that Becca’s journey back to 1995 occurs when she passes out in an elevator shaft.

“We’re not trying to crack the code of time here, we’re telling a fairytale,” she explains. “Becca’s experience is something most people think about at some point – what if I had taken a different path or made a different decision at a certain moment in time?”

Of course, Becca’s attempts to change the past don’t work out as planned. “The dirty little secret of time travel is that there is no such thing as perfect knowledge,” says Fox. “Becca’s attempts to alter her future for the better inevitably go wrong.”

Fox says the writing team on the show deliberately didn’t get into a broad theoretical debate about time travel “because Hindsight isn’t that kind of show, and we sensed that our simple ‘what if?’ premise would become unwieldy.”

But there were the inevitable fan questions, “such as why doesn’t Becca make herself rich by investing in Apple shares? Again, the answer to that was that we were trying to tell a more intimate story about a character whose priority was not to get rich quick but to find an emotional resolution,” Fox adds.

Historically, there haven’t been many female time travellers in fiction. But it’s interesting to note that there are currently two on TV, the other being Claire Beauchamp Randall, the heroine of Starz drama Outlander, which is based on the book series by Diana Gabaldon.

Claire is a Second World War combat nurse on a trip to Scotland with her husband. While there, she touches a mystical stone and wakes up in 1743 – in the middle of a military skirmish between the British and the highlanders. She sides with the Scots and falls in love with one of them (Jamie).

Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik says time travel is not used in a heavy-handed way during the first season (though it will be more prominent in season two), but adds that it does inform the relationship between Claire and Jamie. “It gives the relationship a different dynamic than if this was a traditional historical romance,” he says. “Claire has more independence than Jamie would expect from a woman of his own era.”

The fact that Claire is from the 1940s, not the present day, meant the production had to contend with two historical time periods, not one.

But like with Hindsight, a key theme of Outlander is whether the future can be altered or taken advantage of. Zlotnik adds: “At the end of season one, Claire and Jamie set off to try to stop the battle of Culloden, which she knows will end badly for the Scots. But she doesn’t know if there is a way for her to stop the Scots being decimated or if history is on some kind of autopilot.”

Interest in time-travel stories isn’t limited to the Anglo-American market. In the 2001 Mexican telenovela Aventuras En El Tiempo, central character Violeta discovers a time machine built by her grandfather that allows her to witness her own birth and her mother’s death.

tvN’s Nine: Nine Times Time Trave
tvN’s Nine: Nine Times Time Travel uses time travel to redefine the romance genre

In Korea, meanwhile, one of the top shows in the last couple of years has been Nine: Nine Times Time Travel, which aired on cable channel tvN in 2013. And like Hindsight and Outlander, the show explores concepts like the path not travelled, the unattainableness of perfect knowledge and the way in which actions have unintended consequences.

“Nine is a fantasy drama where Lee Jin-Wook, playing a TV anchor, gets his hands on nine doses of a mysterious potion that allows him to travel 20 years back in time nine times,” says Jangho Seo, head of international sales and acquisitions at distributor CJ E&M Corporation. “Each time he goes back, there are severe consequences for the present-day timeline.”

Although there are now a number of time-travel series on the Korean market, Nine was one of the first shows to see the potential of time travel in redefining the romance genre. Seo says: “The time-travel aspect was planned from the pre-production phase with a very clear purpose. The majority of Korean dramas focus on love stories and melodrama. As such, the main characters face dilemmas involving tangled relationships and disruptions from sub-characters. With Nine, we wanted the level of dilemma to reach its maximum.”

This approach is one reason the show has travelled so well, says Seo. To date, it has sold to 55 countries and has been picked up by a US prodco for development as a scripted pilot.

While all the above shows use time travel as device to tell relationship-based stories, it also continues to have a role to play in science-based action-adventure.

In ITV’s hit series Primeval (pictured top), for example, the idea of earthquakes in time, called ‘anomalies’ in the show, was developed so dangerous creatures from the past or future could accidentally travel through time, thus causing havoc wherever they went.

Tim Haines, creative director at ITV Studios and former creative director at Impossible Pictures, where he co-created and executive produced Primeval, says: “Time travel was a device to conflate creatures from different era. The anomalies were conceptually as simple as possible, so we did not need the audience to be excited about the process; it was more about the consequences of thrusting the fauna from a different time into the present and following the chaos.”

While time travel wasn’t intended as the core of Primeval’s concept, it did inevitably play its part in storytelling. In episode one, the central character Nick Cutter and his wife Helen stumble across the remains of an expedition that has been attacked by a monster, and then realise that the destroyed expedition is the one they are now on.

“The strongest time-travel storyline in Primeval was Cutter’s wife coming back to haunt him (after being presumed dead for eight years),” says Haines. “As for individual stories, the bigger the incursion, the trickier it was to make believable, because (the central characters) were trying to keep it secret. So being surrounded by terror birds in a wood shack worked well, but a T. rex in the city was less satisfying.”

The BBC's Doctor Who also incorporates time travel elements
The BBC’s Doctor Who also incorporates time travel elements

Like his peers, Haines avoided dwelling too much on paradoxes caused by time travel. “We talked about this a lot at the beginning and end of the series. But as the series went on, time travel and paradoxes became less relevant, if occasionally necessary,” he says. “Our science was more biological, using anomalies to explain evolutionary and crypto-zoological mysteries. There was consistency and the fans did not mind, even though I am sure if you looked closely you would have found holes.”

One dynamic that sets Primeval apart from other time-travel shows is that it has characters coming back to the present from an imagined future. The future’s impact on the present is also the central theme in Refugadios (Refugees), a BBC Worldwide/Atresmedia coproduction that aired in Spain in May but has yet to arrive in the UK.

Made by Bambu Producciones, the central premise of Refugees is that three billion people from the future have travelled to the present to escape an imminent global disaster.

The scale of the refugee problem is framed through a few key establishing shots, but the story itself focuses on a small town. Explaining the show at Mipcom 2014, executive producer Ben Donald said: “We haven’t gone global with a story investigating the future, that’s just a premise that helps bring out secrets and hidden stories among the protagonists.”

This is a key point. Like most the other series in the genre, Refugees uses time travel as a device to tell a certain kind of human interest story – similar to series like Les Revenants (The Returned) and Äkta Människor (Real Humans).

Donald added: “Without being didactic, Refugees is about the global immigration debate, which makes the series feel incredibly relevant. Science fiction at its best can hold up a mirror to the world and act as a fantastic metaphor.”

This assessment is echoed by writer Howard Overman, who has used time travel in Dirk Gently, Atlantis and, most prominently, his acclaimed drama Misfits.

“Sci-fi works best when it speaks to the human emotions in us. It’s a very human thing to think about the mistakes we’ve made and wonder what it would be like to rectify them,” he says. “In Misfits, time travel allowed one of our central characters to compare who he is now to what he would become in the future. Showing characters who have something at stake is more interesting than if we’d just used time travel visit the Victorian era.”

Overman says he tried hard to keep temporal consistency in Misfits’ time-travel storylines. “I was really careful about avoiding paradoxes,” he admits. “It is easy to overlook the ripple effects that are created when you use time travel. But then if you are worried about logic you probably shouldn’t be doing time travel at all.”

BBC primetime drama Atlantis also used time travel, with central character Jason Donnelly travelling back from the present to the ancient city of Atlantis via a deep-sea temporal disturbance. In that case “we started out with the idea that our hero might have some kind of basic knowledge of Greek mythology, but gradually dropped that idea,” says Overman. “In hindsight, it may have worked just as well if he had been a Greek guy washed up on the beach of Atlantis rather than someone travelling in time. But that’s the benefit of hindsight.”

For the most part, then, TV time travel is used as an allegorical device. But are there any shows for sci-fi geeks, comparable to movie extravaganzas like Terminator or Interstellar? Well, yes – but it seems the TV industry has a tendency to look back in time for its inspiration (similar to the way robotics stories give Isaac Asimov a respectful nod).

US cable channel The CW, for example, recently aired a remake of 1970s show The Tomorrow People, in which a core power of one of the main characters is the ability to manipulate time.

Luther writer Neil Cross is also adapting classic UK sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, about inter-dimensional beings who guard the order of time.

Then, of course, there is the BBC’s sci-fi series Doctor Who, rooted in a mythology first invented in the 1960s. Speaking to BBC America, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat summed up his own feelings about the appeal of time travel as a storytelling device: “The moment you say time travel is an incidental factor of your world, it changes everything.

“You could be dealing with the consequences of an action you have not yet performed. From the point of view of a writer, especially a writer like me who likes a puzzle-box structure, it’s fascinating. The future could be your past. Come on, that’s brilliant.”

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