Ones to Watch: Directors

Ones to Watch: Directors

By Michael Pickard
June 17, 2021


DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 directors to tune in for, from Lars Von Trier (The Kingdom) and Alice Troughton (The Midwich Cuckoos) to Clio Barnard (The Essex Serpent) and Sarmad Masud (You Don’t Know Me).

20. Lars Von Trier
For over 50 years Danish film director Lars Von Trier (pictured standing) has built an award-winning career on the back of films such as Melancholia, The House That Jack Built, Dancer in the Dark, Nymphomaniac and Antichrist. Now at least 20 years after it last aired, Von Trier is returning to his seminal horror miniseries Riget (The Kingdom) for a third and final season. The new run of episodes will continue the strange story of the neurosurgical ward of Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet, where an ensemble of characters are confronted by mysterious events and the lines between good and evil are blurred more than ever. The Kingdom Exodus, as the third season will be called, is set to air next year on Scandinavian streamer Viaplay and Danish broadcaster DR.

19. Mirrah Foulkes
Australian Foulkes is most recognisable for on-screen roles in series such as Mr Inbetween, Harrow and Top of the Lake. More recently, she has stepped behind the camera and is among the directors of Stan original series Eden. Launching this month, the mystery thriller is set in an idyllic coastal town where the disappearance of a young woman triggers a devastating chain of events that lays bare the hidden dark heart of the community.

18. Hugh Laurie
The Night Manager (pictured) and Roadkill star has previously directed episodes of Fortysomething and House but now takes on three-part Agatha Christie adaptation Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? The BritBox North America series follows the local vicar’s son, Bobby Jones (Will Poulter), and his whip-smart friend, socialite Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent (Lucy Boynton) on their crime-solving adventure after they discover the crumpled body of a dying man who, with his last breath, gasps the cryptic question of the title.

17. Alice Troughton
Troughton was behind Baghdad Central, which this year received a clutch of Bafta nominations, and has also directed Tin Star, A Discovery of Witches, Lost in Space and The Living & the Dead (pictured). She is now working as lead director on The Midwich Cuckoos, a Sky adaptation of John Wyndham’s science-fiction novel of the same name with a cast headed by Keeley Hawes and Max Beesley. The story sees a corner of affluent commuter town Midwich plunged into panic when people suddenly pass out for no apparent reason. When the mysterious blackout is lifted, those affected return to apparent normality – except that every woman of child-bearing age inside the zone has inexplicably fallen pregnant.

16. Steve Barron
Barron’s directing career started in music videos, working with the likes of Adam & the Ants, Fleetwood Mac and Simple Minds. He helmed videos for The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, Madonna’s Burning Up, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and A-ha’s Take on Me. When he moved into feature films, he worked on comedies such as Coneheads and Mike Bassett: England Manager. His TV work includes feature-length Treasure Island and ITV drama The Durrells, but his latest small-screen project will see him embark on a global adventure with Around the World in 80 Days. David Tennant stars as Phileas Fogg, who after losing a bet sets off with his valet, Passepartout, on a journey to circle the world in just 80 days.

15. Kathy Burke
An iconic British comedienne, Burke is best known for her on-screen films and television roles in Absolutely Fabulous, Gimme Gimme Gimme, Nil By Mouth, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and for starring alongside Harry Enfield in his self-titled sketch shows. Burke has also directed episodes of comedy series Horne & Corden, and will celebrate her 40th anniversary in the industry this year by helming ITV’s four-part series Holding. Based on Graham Norton’s novel of the same name, the story introduces Sergeant PJ Collins, a gentle giant who hides from people and fills his days with comfort food and half-hearted police work. When the body of a local legend is discovered, PJ is called up to solve a serious crime for the first time in his career.

14. Barry Jenkins
Oscar-winning Jenkins has made his name with feature films including Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk. But after directing episodes of The Knick and Dear White People, he shepherded Amazon Studios’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad from page to screen, directing all 10 episodes of the historical drama set in the antebellum South. The series introduces Cora Randall (Thuso Mbedu), who escapes a Georgia plantation for the rumoured Underground Railroad and discovers a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. But as she embarks on her desperate bid for freedom, she is pursued by Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton), a bounty hunter who is fixated on bringing her back to the plantation she escaped from.

13. Alma Har’el
Lady in the Lake, an upcoming limited series commissioned by Apple TV+, marks the first television project for director Alma Har’el, who also co-created and co-writes the series, based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name. Set in 1960s Baltimore, an unsolved murder pushes housewife and mother Maddie Schwartz (Natalie Portman) to reinvent her life as an investigative journalist and sets her on a collision course with Cleo Sherwood (Lupita Nyong’o), a hard-working woman juggling motherhood, numerous jobs and a passionate commitment to advancing the city’s black progressive agenda. Har’el worked as a music video director before moving into documentaries, with films such as Bombay Beach, LoveTrue and her feature film debut Honey Boy.

12. Tomas Alfredson
After their award-winning collaboration on spy film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Swedish director Alfredson reunites with screenwriter Peter Straughan for espionage thriller Europa, an adaptation of Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe Sequence novels. The eight-part series will be set in a world devastated by a flu pandemic and crippled by economic collapse, which sees the continent split into numerous tiny nations and shifting alliances. Alfredson’s previous work also includes The Snowman and Let The Right One In.

11. Uta Briesewitz
German cinematographer and director Breisewitz has worked on an enviable list of US dramas in recent years, most notably directing episodes of In Treatment, Stranger Things, The Deuce, Westworld, Jessica Jones and Orange is the New Black. She is now the lead director of The Wheel of Time, Amazon Studios’ upcoming fantasy series based on Robert Jordan’s novels. Set in a world where magic exists and only certain women are allowed to access it, the story follows Moiraine, a member of the increasingly powerful all-female organisation called the Aes Sedai. When she arrives in the town of Two Rivers, she embarks on a dangerous, world-spanning journey with five young men and women, one of whom is prophesied to be the Dragon Reborn – who will either save or destroy humanity. Briesewitz also directed the pilot for CSI: Vegas, the sequel to the original crime procedural that is making its return to CBS in 2021/22.

10. Alejandro Amenábar
Chilean-born Amenábar moves into television for the first time with La Fortuna, a series coming to Spain’s Movistar+ with a cast that boasts Álvaro Mel, Ana Polvorosa, Stanley Tucci, Clarke Peters and T’Nia Miller. The story introduces Álex Ventura (Mel), a young and inexperienced diplomat who unintentionally becomes the leader of a mission that will put all his convictions to the test: to recover the sunken treasure stolen by Frank Wild (Tucci), an adventurer who travels the world plundering items of common heritage from the depths of the sea. Oscar-winning Amenábar took home the 2004 Academy Award for best foreign-language film for his Spanish film The Sea Inside, and has also directed films such as The Others and Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes).

9. Antoine Fuqua
The director of feature films such as Training Day, The Magnificent Seven and The Equalizer franchise, as well as music videos for Toni Braxton, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Coolio, the American filmmaker is attached to direct and executive produce Showtime’s forthcoming drama Zulu: King of the Zulu Nation. Rooted in actual events, the series tells the story of Zulu Empire chief Shaka and his unlikely rise to power, uniting multiple tribes across vast stretches of the early 19th century.

8. Georgi Banks-Davies
After winning the Emerging Talent: Fiction award at this year’s Baftas for her debut television series I Hate Suzie, Banks-Davies has announced her next project. We Go Around in the Night and are Consumed by Fire is a limited series written by Claire McQuillan and based on the novel by Jules Grant. The revenge thriller introduces Donna, a lesbian gangster, street poet and boss of the all-female Bronte Close Gang: an unapologetic, criminal gang whose illicit profits are made by selling drugs from perfume atomisers in club toilets. Alongside single parent Carla – her best friend, trusted second-in-command and subject of her unrequited love — they carve out an empire on the toughest streets of Manchester. But when Carla is lethally gunned down, everything changes and Donna sets out to exact retribution.

7. Amin Dora
International Emmy winner Dora (Shankaboot, Ghadi) will helm Hell’s Gate, a series dubbed the first Arab sci-fi drama of its kind, which is set to launch this summer on Arabic streamer Shahid VIP. Set in Beirut 2052, Lebanon is run by a group of private investors and businesses – known as the Union State – and they’re not using the country for good. On the other side is Tawara, a revolutionary group aiming to defeat the baddies.

6. Nicole Kassell
A prolific television director, Kassell’s recent credits include titles such as The Following, Vinyl, The Leftovers, The Americans, Westworld and Watchmen (pictured). She is lead director on The Baby, Sky’s darkly comic drama about Natasha (Michelle De Swarte), the friend who has never made long-term plans. When she is unexpectedly landed with a baby, her life of doing what she wants, when she wants, dramatically implodes. Controlling, manipulative and with violent powers, the baby twists Natasha’s life into a horror show. Then, as she discovers the true extent of its deadly nature, Natasha makes increasingly desperate attempts to get rid of the baby. But while she doesn’t want a baby, the baby wants her.

5. Uli Edel
Throughout his career, German director Edel has continually crossed the now-faded barrier separating television and film, with feature credits including The Baader Meinhof Complex, Christiane F and Last Exit to Brooklyn standing next to his work on series such as Houdini, Oz, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Twin Peaks. His next project, German-language series Der Palast (The Palace), is a musical and suspenseful family saga set against the backdrop of Berlin’s Freidrichstadt-Palast, the largest show stage in the world. The six-part series opens in November 1988 as dancer Chris is preparing for the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). When she meets Marlene, the identical twin she never knew she had living in the West, they decide to swap places and dive into each others lives – a decision that pushes them to their emotional limits on an adventure of a lifetime.

4. Clio Barnard
The documentary and feature film director (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant) steps into television for the first time with Apple TV+’s adaptation of The Essex Serpent, based on the novel by Sarah Perry. With a cast led by Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston, it follows newly widowed Cora (Danes) who, having being released from an abusive marriage, relocates from Victorian London to the small village of Aldwinter in Essex, intrigued by a local superstition that a mythical creature known as the Essex Serpent has returned to the area. Hiddleston plays Will Ransome, the trusted leader of the small rural community. The series is expected to air in 2022.

3. Sarmad Masud
Masud’s breakout feature film My Pure Land – which he wrote and directed – tells the story of three women in Pakistan who defend their home against a group of armed men. Released in 2017, the Urdu-language feminist Western was selected as the UK entry for the Academy Awards’ best foreign-language film category the following year. Masud then went on to direct television series such as Ackley Bridge and Bulletproof before taking on all four episodes of upcoming BBC and Netflix miniseries You Don’t Know Me. Based on Imran Mahmood’s novel, it tells the story of a young man, who, with overwhelming evidence against him, stands accused of murder. At his trial, Hero (Samuel Adewunmi) tells an extraordinary story about Kyra (Sophie Wilde), the woman he loves, who got into terrible trouble and how he risked everything to save her.

2. Reed Morano
Having worked for almost 20 years as a cinematographer, Morano made her name as a director on shows such as Halt & Catch Fire and Billions before directing the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, winning an Emmy for her work on the pilot episode. Her latest project sees her direct all 10 episodes of The Power, Amazon Studio’s thriller based on the book by Naomi Alderman that is set in a world where teenage girls around the world suddenly develop the power to electrocute people at will, changing the world forever.

1. Xavier Dolan
Former child star Dolan has been making feature films since his 2009 directorial debut I Killed My Mother, which won international acclaim. A film festival favourite ever since, he has written, directed and starred in most of his projects, which include Tom at the Farm, Heartbeats and It’s Only the End of the World. The Québécois filmmaker is now in production on his first television series, The Night Logan Woke Up, a five-part thriller he writes, produces, directs and stars in. Set in the early 1990s, the show follows Mimi and her brother Julian who are best friends with Logan and together they form an inseparable trio. But their friendship is broken by a terrible incident and they’re forced to take separate roads. Thirty years later, Mimi has become a thanatologist (a student of death, dying and grief) and travels home to take care of her mother’s corpse, as requested by the latter in her will. She is reunited with her estranged brothers as secrets and spite buried deep in the past soon resurface, sending them in pursuit of reconciliation.

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