Killing the mood

Killing the mood

January 4, 2024


BlackBox Multimedia’s Giuliano Papadia and Clapperboard’s Andy Morgan reveal how a key scene in which the protagonist watches on while her husband is arrested for murder sets up the world of Paramount+ thriller The Serial Killer’s Wife.

When Beth Fairchild hosts a surprise birthday party for her husband Tom, she finds the biggest surprise is one she could never have prepared for. In front of their friends and neighbours, the police storm into their home and Tom is arrested for murder.

The beloved local doctor of the idyllic English country town where they live, Tom (Jack Farthing) is accused of killing his former assistant, and Beth (Annabel Scholey)’s world is turned upside down.

Though she believes her husband has been wrongly accused, more dead women are soon linked to Tom, while Beth finds help in the form of Adam (Luke Treadaway), Tom’s best friend. As her seemingly perfect life falls apart, does Beth really know the man she loves?

Written by Ben Morris and Suzanne Cowie, The Serial Killer’s Wife is directed by Laura Way (Maxine) and produced by BlackBox Multimedia and Clapperboard.

Here, BlackBox’s Giuliano Papadia and Clapperboard’s Andy Morgan discuss this pivotal scene in the drama’s first episode and how it sets up the entire story.

Laura Way directing the key dinner party scene for The Serial Killer’s Wife

Papadia: The Serial Killer’s Wife is a collaboration between BlackBox Multimedia and Clapperboard for Paramount+ and is a high-end drama series adaptation of the incredible novel of the same name by Alice Hunter. The book is full of twists and turns, and our version for TV embodies that, starting with the pivotal dinner party scene in episode one, where Beth’s entire life is turned on its head as Tom is arrested for murder.

Morgan: The dinner party scene is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it sets up the world of the story and the visual tone of the show and introduces us to pretty much all the major characters we’ll meet throughout the series. It’s a fantastic opening shot, and as the camera drifts through the party crowd, we dip in and out of several conversations,
being drip-fed small plot details and nuggets of information that hopefully the audience will pick up on.

Papadia: It is the door to Beth’s world before the storm. It sets the society in which she lives and how she doesn’t completely fit into it. It’s incredible how a single scene helps you get a sense of the family and the relationship between Tom and Beth. On the one hand, it is an idyllic world, a crystal castle; but we also hint at small cracks that burst under DI Aline [Angela Griffin]’s pressure. The ending of this scene – the arrest – is the main inciting incident. It is when Beth realises all the cracks in the perfect world she has curated are revealed, and it might never be the same.

Annabel Scholey and Jack Farthing play the couple at the centre of the story

Morgan: This scene also pretty much sets up the whole story. The moment Tom – the husband, the father, the respected local doctor – is arrested for murder should be an absolute sucker punch for Beth, and hopefully a huge hook for the audience who so far have been introduced to a seemingly near-perfect couple with a near-perfect life.

Originally, there were a few more scenes preceding this one, and there was a gentler and more layered way into the story. But the network was very keen to bring Tom’s arrest scene earlier, which we were initially against. I remember there being several discussions about the pros and cons of having that type of structure. Seeing it now, I think they were right, as the build up to the arrest, with the cop cars racing to the house, is cut together so well. The tension really builds up to that brutal moment when DI Aline arrests Tom and we see Beth’s world begin to crumble. It’s a really gripping sequence.

Papadia: Setting up the scene was a complex and challenging process but the whole team worked together incredibly well, which made it as smooth as possible. Shooting on location is always challenging, especially in a big room such as the one in this scene, with so many actors and extras. There are so many interactions and so many factors that can go wrong, so preparation is crucial.

Laura Way, our director, had a vision for the scene that was heavily choreographic. She wanted to show the amazing location we were filming in as much as possible. She believed that the room itself was the way to introduce the viewers into the world of the series. The use of the steadicam and long travelling shots make us feel as if we are actually in the party and add complexity to the characters. This vision was a lot of work, but I’m happy to say it all worked out perfectly in the end.

The scene was filmed in a large stately home

Morgan: One major challenge was finding the right location to use as the Fairchild house. Being an ex-location manager myself, I know how tricky it is finding the right domestic locations for characters. Everyone has their own opinion of how it should look and feel, but it also needs to tell the right story as well as work for us practically, i.e. be able to accommodate a full-scale film crew.

The creative team scouted a number of properties, but this was the only one that ticked all the boxes, both creatively and practically. Tom is the local GP, which has long been the family tradition, and so it made sense the Fairchild family home would be substantial. Beth is also supposed to feel like a fish out of water both in the community and at home, never quite comfortable with her surroundings, and the scale of this location allowed Laura to create that sense of unease and isolation felt by Beth.

It’s actually a huge, private stately home, but we only show a part of it in order to stay within the realm of belief. I remember seeing it for the first time on the location recce and thinking it was too big. Both Laura and Evan [Barry, director of photography] did their best to convince me otherwise, and assured me it would look smaller on screen, which it does. That said, there’s still an unavoidable grandeur and opulence to the property, and I think audiences, particularly internationally, like to see that in British dramas.

Papadia: Laura did an incredible job with the whole project and she directed this pivotal scene wonderfully. You can see the added value of her previous experience. She knows the work and knows how to put the many actors in the scene at ease. All the actors trusted her professionalism and it was a pleasure to see the dance she was able to create in this scene.

L-R: the supporting cast includes Hari Dhillon, Morgana Robinson and Shobna Gulati

Morgan: For audiences, whether new to the story or fans of the book, this dinner party scene will impact in a very big way. The story is told very much from Beth’s perspective – she is The Serial Killer’s Wife, after all. So one hopes the audience will put themselves in Beth’s shoes and be wondering what they would do in this situation. At a party, in front of the entire community, your husband is arrested for murder. How do you react to that? How do you cope? What do you do next? But then it also raises questions about whether Beth knows what her husband is supposedly guilty of, and even whether she’s involved.

The performances in this scene, especially from Annabel, Jack, Luke and Angela, are spectacular. Audiences watching this scene played out by such a brilliant ensemble cast will definitely add to the impact of the drama and how it then unfolds. The main reason we’ve chosen to dissect this scene in particular is that, beyond this point, the thriller wheels are truly in motion and the twists and turns really start to kick in. Beth’s world has been turned upside down and she’s determined to do anything she can to rectify it. But there are plenty of surprises coming her way. Discussing anything further into the series would’ve been full of spoilers.

Papadia: Adapting the story of The Serial Killer’s Wife for the screen was as straightforward as it could be because the book had such a strong premise, which was everything we needed to make the decision to adapt it in the first place. This scene is a gate to the world, which then quickly unfolds into a highly enticing yet relatable plot, constantly keeping you on your toes. It was exactly what we look for in a narrative to adapt for TV, and was so strong that even when it finally diverged from the book, I am sure all the readers will still recognise it, and new fans will love it just as much.

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