Masterpiece, the prestigious drama strand that airs on PBS in the US, has come on board Prime Suspect prequel Tennison as a coproducer alongside ITV Studios and NoHo Film & Television.
The six-part series has been created and written by Lynda La Plante, who also wrote the first episodes of the original Prime Suspect franchise way back in 1991. La Plante’s three-decade association with the ground-breaking Prime Suspect franchise also saw her co-create a US version of the show for NBC in 2011.
La Plante, successful as both a novelist and a screenwriter, has always been known for her ability to create gritty female voices. Until now, most of her hit dramas have been centred on women in contemporary settings. But Tennison sees her most famous creation, Detective Jane Tennison, starting out her career as an ambitious 22-year-old in the 1970s. As such, it’s an opportunity for La Plante to explore what it would have been like for a female officer in an era of chauvinism and rule-bending.
The story begins when Jane is confronted with a brutal murder. Not only does she have to contend with the impact of violent crime, she also has to establish herself in a male-dominated workplace.
Aside from Prime Suspect and Tennison, La Plante’s best-known franchise is probably Widows, which first saw the light of day in 1983, introducing the world to the ferocious Dolly Rawlins. The first series of this story saw four women executing a heist that had been set up by their gangster husbands, presumed dead in a fire. The story continued with a follow-up series in 1985 and a spin-off in 1995 entitled She’s Out – again centring on Rawlins.
Like Prime Suspect, Widows was also transformed into a US TV series, in 2002. And, again like Prime Suspect, it continues to be evolved for new audiences. The latest incarnation of Widows is a movie version that is to be directed by Steve McQueen. La Plante is involved in the character development for the film, with the screenplay being written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) is reported to be in the cast. There’s no confirmation yet that she will play the part of Rawlins, but assuming she does it would be an inspired choice.
Another female writer in the news is novelist Rose Tremain, who is developing two of her novels for TV with indie producer Buccaneer Media (Marcella). One of the novels is The Road Home, about a widower who travels from his Eastern European village to London in search of work to support his family back home.
The other is The Gustav Sonata, about a young boy growing up in a Swiss town and his friendship with a talented Jewish pianist.
Tremain is the award-winning author of 14 novels but has never written a TV script. However, she will be writing the teleplay for The Road Home. Despite the clear stylistic differences between novels and screenplays, this is a growing trend as producers look for ways to introduce new voices to the TV ecosystem. It’s one that’s likely to continue following the success novelist Daisy Goodwin has had bringing Victoria to the screen for ITV.
Production companies tend to control the risk of parachuting novelists into TV by supporting them with executives that are well-versed in the nuances of TV writing. In this case, Buccaneer has brought in Bafta winner Lynn Horsford as an executive producer. Horsford’s glittering film and TV career includes dramas like Any Human Heart, Birdsong, The 7.39 and Boy A.
There was another UK book adaptation story this week, with Big Talk Productions announcing that it’s developing a drama series based on Gordon Stevens’ 2006 book The Originals: The Secret History of the Birth of the SAS. The new series, to be called SAS: The Originals, will be written by James Woods (co-creator of comedy series Rev) and Rupert Walters (Spooks).
Stevens’ book is based on 120 hours of video and audio tape about the formation of the Special Air Service (similar to Delta Force or the Navy SEALs in the US) during the Second World War. It will be supplemented by Wood and Walters’ own research to create a drama about the origins of the world-famous fighting force.
Post-Rev, Woods has also been working on an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Decline and Fall for BBC2. He previously worked with Walters on Ambassadors, a three-part miniseries starring comedian David Mitchell. That show was a Big Talk production for BBC2. It didn’t rate especially well but it did get some fairly positive feedback from TV critics.
In Australia, meanwhile, ABC has commissioned a comedy-drama series from an all-indigenous team of directors and writers. Warriors is set in the world of Australian Rules Football and tells the story of an 18-year-old indigenous footballer who is drafted to play in the elite Australian Rules Football league.
The series is from Robert Connolly’s production company Arenamedia and will be distributed internationally by Entertainment One. Screen Australia and Film Victoria also helped finance the show.
The series was created by Connolly and Tony Briggs, who is one of the writers. Briggs is well known in Australia as an actor but turned his hand to writing with 2012 movie The Sapphires. That told the story of a talented young Australian aboriginal girl group called up to entertain US troops during the Vietnam war.
The other writers on the show are Jon Bell and Tracey Rigney. Bell’s credits include international hit series Cleverman and The Gods of Wheat Street. Rigney, meanwhile, is a newcomer to TV but not to writing. Having studied creative writing at the University of Melbourne, her first play – Belonging – was staged in Melbourne when she was just 21. She has since written and directed films including Man Real, Abalone and Endangered.
Commenting on why Warriors attracted finance, Penny Smallacombe, head of indigenous at Screen Australia, said: “What attracted us to this project was both the concept of following four mischievous footballers experiencing the highs, lows and often funny situations of life as an elite athlete, and the opportunity for indigenous creatives to partner with highly regarded practitioners and accelerate their career trajectory.”
tagged in: ABC, Big Talk Productions, Buccaneer Media, Decline and Fall, Gordon Stevens, James Woods, Jon Bell, Lynda La Plante, Lynn Horsford, PBS, Robert Connolly, Rose Tremain, Rupert Walters, SAS: The Originals, Tennison, The Gustav Sonata, The Road Home, Tony Briggs, Tracey Rigney, Warriors, Widows