On the up
The cast and creative team behind Sky drama The Rising talk about the show’s eye-catching blend of crime and the supernatural in this English-language adaptation of Belgian hit Beau Séjour.
When Neve Kelly wakes up deep beneath the surface of a picturesque lake, she pulls herself above water and then swims ashore, understandably confused and disorientated about how she got there. The shocking truth, as she is about to discover, is that she is dead.
Across eight-part Sky drama The Rising, Neve will investigate her own murder as she determines to get justice, taking advantage of her ability to go where the police cannot. In doing so, she uncovers long-buried secrets that force her to re-examine her life and her relationships with those closest to her.
Based on Belgian series Beau Séjour, this supernatural crime drama plays out in an idyllic setting and with a visual style that is at times realistic, dynamic, psychedelic and nightmarish. The story introduces an ensemble cast of characters living in a timeless, isolated community who all have something to hide – and might just have been involved in Neve’s death.
“Initially reading the scripts, it was just a page-turner, completely and utterly,” says Clara Rugaard, who stars as Neve. “It’s the first time I’ve really seen so many characters that are so complex and so tangible, raw and authentic on the page. I instantly cared for Neve and obviously empathised with her, and I thought it was amazing that, through the victim’s eyes, we get to go on this journey to investigate her murder as she gets to right the injustice that’s been done.”
“You can always tell it’s a good script when it’s really easy to learn the lines,” says Nenda Neururer. The actor plays Alex Wyatt, who has returned to the community after several years away and is also the cousin of Neve’s long-term boyfriend, Joseph Wyatt. “That’s what I think as an actor, and it was really easy to learn it because it just made sense. I really loved the atmosphere it created because it is set in such a rural eerie place, which is so beautiful.”
“As soon as you start reading [the script], you’re instantly drawn to every character, not just the one you’re auditioning for or playing,” says Solly McLeod, who plays Joseph, just one of many characters affected by Neve’s return. “The connections and the relationships are all incredibly interesting from the start, and to see those develop as the other scripts came out was really exciting. We would get new scripts and be like, ‘Holy shit, what happens?’ These very real, very raw human characters were really enticing.”
As the series progresses, Neve soon learns of her ability to communicate with certain other characters from beyond the grave – her father, Tom, and Alex among them – while flashbacks reveal the true nature of Neve and Joseph’s relationship. The pair grew up together in the same town, and he may just be the reason she never managed to escape. Joseph also has secrets in his past that explain his seemingly toxic behaviour and his difficult relationship with Alex.
“There are some characters who can see Neve and later we find out why, so we are able to help each other,” Neururer says. “Neve is helping Alex as much as Alex is helping Neve, so there is a little bit of support that Neve gets, which is why they bond. Alex comes back to this town where everyone hates her and no one is speaking to her anyway, apart from a ghost.”
The show’s young lead cast – who would listen to playlists to get into character – is complemented by familiar faces such as Matthew McNulty (The Terror), who plays Neve’s estranged father Tom, Emily Taaffe (The Beast Must Die) as her beloved mother Maria and Alex Lanipekun (Spooks) as her stepfather Daniel.
Alcoholic Tom still holds a candle for Maria, but his broken relationships with her and Neve have caused drinking to take over his life. “That meant he was an absent father, really, and all the guilt that entails is weighing heavily on his shoulders,” says McNulty. “He is a teacher, so he’s still very much within the community, but he’s not really got any friends. He’s quite lonely, but it’s his own fault.”
Maria, meanwhile, had reached a point in her relationship with Neve where her daughter was starting to spread her wings. “They’re having a bit of classic mother-and-daughter angst and conflict, but she’s in a stable relationship. Everything’s quite steady,” says Taaffe. “Then this bomb goes off in the middle of her world and it’s never going to be the same again.
“The interesting thing is the impact grief has isn’t always what you think it will be, and the effect it has on relationships isn’t always the one you expect. Some relationships are healed and some are fractured, and they’re not necessarily the ones you think they would be.”
Daniel has a history of trauma in his own life relating to his wife 10 years before The Rising begins, and as the show opens, he is building a new family with Maria, Neve and his own two daughters. “It’s earth-shattering when Neve is killed,” Lanipekun notes, “but it very quickly brings to the surface a lot of things that Daniel wasn’t able to deal with from his past, and he gets forced to reckon with them in ever-increasing ways as the story goes on.”
As a fan of old noir films and gumshoe detectives, Lanipekun was impressed with the way The Rising sought to subvert the detective genre and marry it with a supernatural sensibility. “But actually, what you realise is the glue of it is the family drama,” he says. “Underneath all of it is this human story of how these people deal with grief and how that grief explodes and reverberates through the entire community.”
Taaffe was similarly intrigued by The Rising’s premise. “We’ve seen these stories, right? The girl turns up dead – there’s been a lot of them.” But she felt reassured by a script that portrayed Neve not as a victim but as the show’s protagonist. “Our focus is on the victim and her story, and not glamorising the killer,” she says. “There’s no gratuitous violence or imagery of that. As a woman, that was quite important to me. Then also, it’s exploring grief and how ugly and messy it can be and how people have to pick up the pieces of their lives and carry on after something like this. That was partly what attracted me to it as well.”
Produced by Sky Studios and distributed by NBCUniversal Global Distribution, The Rising is written by Pete McTighe (A Discovery of Witches) and Charlotte Wolf, along with Charlene James, Roanne Bardsley and Laura Grace. Ed Lilly (Industry), Thora Hilmarsdottir, Paul Walker and Carl Tibbetts direct.
From a script perspective, McTighe loved the concept behind Beau Séjour. But after watching one episode of the original series, he deliberately chose not to watch any more.
“I didn’t want to be influenced by it and I wanted our show to stand alone on its own two feet, which I think we’ve done really successfully,” he says. “Traditionally, Neve would just be a dead body in a morgue and it would be the policemen’s story. But there was our opportunity to let the victim own the show, own that narrative and go along with her on that journey. It’s important we did justice to her and her story and also not make it a show that’s just about grief and the trauma of that.”
It was also important to McTighe that the series had an element of hope. “We’re not going to be pulling the rug out from under the audience and suddenly [Neve is] alive again. That’s not going to happen,” he says. “She’s definitely dead, but there has to be a hopeful element to the show to keep people engaged. And to keep me engaged as a writer, I had to know she was going to be OK in some sense.”
Lilly admits if The Rising had been a standard detective drama, he wouldn’t have joined the project. But he was won over by the decision to make Neve the hero of her own story.
“There have been so many great ‘dead girl’ crime dramas in the past, but it was really important to progress the genre. The Rising is very multi-genre, which will subvert audience expectations. Going against cliches and stereotypes is what all the best TV in the world is doing at the moment. That’s what was really exciting about The Rising.”
Creating the dramatic atmosphere of the series was crucial for the writer, who sought to achieve a similar tone to shows like Twin Peaks, French drama Les Revenants (The Returned) and German series Dark. Filming took place around Manchester and the Lake District in Northern England.
“It was really important to me that this world felt isolated in a way, that it was a timeless, placeless environment Neve was alone in. Ed and the team just elevated that and took what was on the page and made it even better,” McTighe says.
Lilly picks up: “We were creating this liminal world, where Neve is trapped between not being alive and not being dead. We wanted to have cinematic scale and we utilised the Lake District, especially around Derwent Water, to give us epic open water, incredible forest and really amazing aerial shots. We also wanted to give the community and the town these characters inhabit an eerie, slightly off-centre quality to it, and that came through in all the aspects of the design, from the cinematography and production design to the costume design and hair and make-up.”
Scenes featuring Neve and Joseph motocross racing add a dynamic flair to the series, which is heightened by the use of drone shots to capture the action from above. Rugaard and McLeod both had a week of motocross training prior to shooting to help them prepare for the show’s bike scenes, while Rugaard also completed a scuba diving course for the opening scene that finds Neve unconscious underwater and then struggling to reach the surface.
“The water segment in the beginning was shot in a tank. I would basically go underwater with another diver on their regulator, no goggles at all, four metres down, take a deep breath and then they would roll the cameras and the diver would try to get out of shot as quickly as possible,” Rugaard recalls. “I just had to hold my breath as long as I could while swimming up. It was quite stressful but fun also.”
Stunts aside, what made shooting The Rising particularly complex was the number of scenes that had to be filmed twice, both with and without Neve. In scenes featuring characters Neve cannot communicate with, that meant other actors had to perform as if she wasn’t there, while Rugaard often had no actors she could respond to.
“I spent most of the shoot being ignored by people. It was quite depressing really,” the actor jokes.
McLeod adds: “There were some quite interesting moments where it gets quite heated with Neve’s character and she’s up in your face, screaming, ‘Did you do it?’ You’re trying to ignore what’s going on but, yeah, you slip up a few times.”
“It was hard because the point of acting is that you’re with someone and something’s happening between you,” says Taaffe. “We would do takes where Clara was there and then takes where she wasn’t. Obviously for Maria, their relationship is her reason to get up in the morning. When that’s taken away, it’s horrifying. Luckily, I just love Clara and I would like to adopt her in real life, so that made my job a lot easier.”
McTighe already has a potential second season mapped out, which he says would be slightly different to season one but would continue the same themes and tones and ultimately be part of the same story world. Notably, season two of the original Beau Séjour introduced a whole new story and characters.
“It’s really important to me that this show had a conclusion, because there’s nothing worse watching a crime drama when you get to the end and you’re not satisfied,” he says. “We did a pretty good job at the end of this season in answering the questions you want answered while also leaving room to go somewhere else. But it was a tricky balance to find.”
As the show launches on Sky Max and NOW in the UK today following its world premiere at Berlinale in February, the writer is most proud of bringing together the crime and supernatural genres the story straddles.
“It starts off with a massive supernatural conceit but, as the series progresses, we really did collide both those genres and create something that feels really fresh and energetic. Hopefully people will respond to that,” he says.
tagged in: Alex Lanipekun, Beau Séjour, Charlotte Wolf, Clara Rugaard, Emily Taaffe, Matthew McNulty, NBCUniversal Global Distribution, Nenda Neururer, Now, Pete McTighe, Sky, Sky Max, Sky Studios, Solly McLeod, The Rising