Secrets and lies are exposed in ITV drama Flesh & Blood, which introduces widowed mother Vivien and her three grown-up children, Helen, Jake and Natalie.
When Vivien introduces her new relationship with Mark, the siblings start to question his intentions towards their mother, while also facing up to their own long-held grudges and complicated personal lives as they head towards tragedy.
The series stars Francesca Annis as Vivien, with Mark played by Stephen Rea. Claudie Blakley (Manhunt) is Helen, Russell Tovey (Years & Years) plays Jake and Lydia Leonard (Gentleman Jack) is Natalie.
In this DQTV interview, executive producer Kate Bartlett, writer and executive producer Sarah Williams and director Louise Hooper discuss making the series and describe how they injected a thriller plot into this family drama.
They also talk about the themes of trust at the heart of the story, how Imelda Staunton’s character Mary grew from minor character to an integral piece of the puzzle, and their search for the perfect filming locations.
Flesh & Blood is produced by Silverprint Pictures for ITV and distributed by ITV Studios.
Following a feature-length pilot in 2016, Tom Riley returns as a tortured detective in a full season of ITV drama Dark Heart. The actor tells DQ about reprising the role of DI Will Wagstaffe, playing a cop and filming in London’s Soho.
When DQ picked up the phone to Tom Riley, the British actor is holed up in LA where he is deep in post-production on The Toll Road, a short film he has directed and produced featuring a cast led by Masters of Sex star – and his wife – Lizzy Caplan.
“It’s more work than I’ve ever done in my life for something so small,” he jokes about the project, in which an eccentric couple face adversity on the eve of their ninth wedding anniversary.
But the Californian sunshine is a world away from where Riley spent several months earlier this year, on the mean streets of a gritty and roughed-up London where he reprised his role as DI Will Wagstaffe in ITV’s moody crime drama Dark Heart.
Wagstaffe – Staffe to his friends – is a man devoted to his work while battling personal demons as he is haunted by the unresolved murder of his parents when he was 16 years old. It’s a weight on his shoulders that affects his on-off romance with Sylvie (Miranda Raison) and his relationship with his sister Juliette (Charlotte Riley) and her son Harry. But although he is an exceptionally good police officer, leading a team including DC Josie Chancellor (Anjli Mohindra), he continues to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.
The six-part series, which debuts on Wednesday, tells three stories across two episodes each. The first sees Staffe investigate the murder of a man found tied to his bed, choked and severely mutilated, the victim of a possible revenge attack after previously being arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting two young girls.
The second story sees Staffe and his team examine the mysterious death of a young nurse on the London Underground, where DNA is found matching that belonging to a teenage boy who went missing and has been presumed dead for seven years. The final story involves an online porn star found murdered in a church.
The return of Dark Heart comes two years after a feature-length pilot, which makes up the first two episodes of this full season, first aired on ITV’s now defunct pay TV channel ITV Encore. But it was successful enough for the broadcaster to commission two new stories that will continue to see Staffe struggle to balance his personal and professional lives.
When viewers first meet Staffe, “he’s tortured, he’s not in the best state. He doesn’t behave in the best way to the people around him.” explains Riley, whose previous credits include Da Vinci’s Demons and The Collection. But while police procedurals can be difficult to reinvent, with cops always able to get the job done despite their personal flaws, the actor says Staffe stands out because his personal demons don’t help him do his job but rather stop him doing it better.
“With this character, what was interesting was this stuff is kind of an obstacle to him,” he says. “It isn’t necessarily the stuff that makes him a good cop. It’s the stuff that stops him being the best cop and stops him being the best family member. So rather than a guy who’s like, ‘Well he’s got a temper but my God when he gets mad at the villains they’re going to give it all up,’ it’s like, no, he needs to mature slightly. I think he’s in a state of arrested development from this tragedy in his past and he can’t quite get past it.”
It’s also one of those examples where actors have to stop trying to find any similarities to the character they’re playing and just play them as they are on the page. “It’s funny really because you want to find the place where you meet the character. You don’t want to be putting it on too much and find bits that are like you,” Riley says. “I guess elements of perfectionism and wanting to get everything right are the stuff I connected with. Everything else was just, ‘Oh ok, I get to act out, that’s fun.’”
The 11-week shoot played out across London, with many long days to incorporate the high number of night sequences required by the script. The English capital’s lack of space meant finding a unit base close to locations also proved tricky, with Riley recalling having to change costumes in pub toilets and in a strip club basement. But, he says, “the most challenging thing is shooting in Soho on a Friday night, with a bunch of people who have had their full working week and you’re in the middle of your working day and they’re out and wasted and want to look into camera and tell you you’re not famous and who are you and why are you here? That stuff was really encouraging!”
Inspired by the characters created by novelist Adam Creed, the series comes from writer Chris Lang and Silverprint Pictures, in association with US SVOD platform Britbox. Lang wrote the first and third stories, with Ben Harris (Marcella) penning the second story.
Lang is also responsible for historic crime drama Unforgotten, which recently aired its third season, and miniseries Innocent. Riley says it’s his deep understanding of criminal cases and his methodical research process that make his scripts stand out — but also his keenness to listen to ideas from the rest of the production team, Riley included.
Lang is also an executive producer alongside Kate Bartlett (Vera, Shetland) and Michael Dawson (Vera, Holby City). The producer is Letitia Knight (Vera) and the director is Colin Teague (Jekyll & Hyde, Da Vinci’s Demons). ITV Studios Global Entertainment will distribute Dark Heart internationally.
“Whilst obviously being a Bafta-winning brilliant writer, he’s also very open to collaborative ideas. In the early script stages when we were coming back in, he was very open to hearing, ‘What do you think this needs, why does this work, why doesn’t this work?’ I think it’s rare for someone who has his level of success to still be able to say, ‘Yes, but what else can the people I’m around bring to this and how can they potentially sculpt and shape the story?’”
In particular, it’s the fine line between Staffe’s personal and professional life that Riley thinks Lang walks so well. “The heavy plotting is what drives it and the plotting of the crimes in each episode but that’s nothing without understanding who these people are and why they act in the way they do,” the actor continues. “Seeing where he comes from and what drives him is just as important and makes it more relatable. Not everyone can relate to a paedophile revenge case as much as they can dealing with normal human family drama.”
But unable to resolve the mystery behind his parents’ murder, Staffe is pushed to solve other crimes. “He can have as much control over his department in the police headquarters and he can have as much control over each case and the people that are in the interrogation rooms with him but that doesn’t mean he necessarily has control over the overarching arc of his life and that’s what drives him, I think — that desire to find out what happened, who did it and in the absence of being able to work that out, he’s funnelling that energy into solving other crimes,” Riley says.
The actor notes that these six episodes end in a way “that will intrigue people to know more,” but hints that Staffe is likely to be the only police officer he will play for a while, with or without a second season.
“I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to play a really wide variety of different characters, different status characters and different intelligence characters,” he adds. “But because of that, the only thing that really keeps it interesting for me is being able to say, ‘Oh I haven’t done this before’ or ‘Today was really challenging’ or ‘I don’t know if I can do tomorrow.’ That’s the kind of stuff that really keeps it interesting. Otherwise I do have a terrible tendency to get bored.”
The scripted TV business received another boost this week with the news that YouTube has moved into original scripted programming for the first time.
Unveiling a slate of six shows across a range of genres, it revealed that its paid-for service YouTube Red has ordered a TV adaptation of Step Up, the popular street dance movie franchise that featured Channing Tatum.
The series, to be made by Lionsgate TV, will follow dancers in a contemporary performing arts school. Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum, who starred in the original movie, will executive produce.
So far, the US$10-per-month service has focused on shows starring top YouTubers such as Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie. However, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has given a strong indication that scripted content will play an increasingly big part in her plans.
Unveiling the slate, which also included a scripted comedy called Rhett & Link’s Buddy System, she said original series and movies are one of the leading drivers of YouTube Red subscriptions, “with viewership that rivals similar cable shows.” Interestingly, more than half of people watching Red originals are doing so via mobile phones – suggesting there may be a future for vertical video.
Still in the world of streamers, SVoD behemoth Netflix announced that it is backing a true crime drama based on Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace.
The novel follows Grace Marks, a poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant living in Canada who, along with stablehand James McDermott, was convicted in 1843 of murdering her employers. The six-part miniseries will be written and produced by Sarah Polley and will air on Canadian public broadcaster CBC in Canada. Netflix will stream it worldwide.
Also this week, JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot has linked up with US talkshow host Tavis Smiley on a miniseries about the death of music icon Michael Jackson.
The series is based on Smiley’s book Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days. Abrams and Smiley are also working on a TV version of the Smiley’s 2014 book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Final Year.
Elsewhere, it has been a busy week for ITV’s pay TV channel ITV Encore, which has announced a series renewal and a miniseries commission. The renewal is for Rainmark Films’ well-received period drama The Frankenstein Chronicles, which stars Sean Bean and was created by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford.
Billed as a “thrilling and terrifying reimaging of the Frankenstein story,” the first season followed detective John Marlott, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo who was battling his own demons and is haunted by the loss of his wife and child. In pursuit of a chilling and diabolical killer, Marlott’s investigation took him into the most exalted rooms and darkest corners of Georgian London, a world of body snatchers, anatomists and scientists whose interests came together in the market for dead bodies.
The new series has been commissioned for ITV by controller of drama Victoria Fea and commissioning editor Sarah Conroy. Production is set to begin in Northern Ireland in January 2017.
“We are thrilled to be working once more with Sean Bean in the role of John Marlott, who is a returning hero like no other,” said executive producer Tracey Scoffield. “With the continued support of ITV and (the show’s distributor) Endemol Shine International we want to be more ambitious than ever.”
ITV also announced a new two-hour crime thriller for ITV Encore entitled Dark Heart. In this production, Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demon, Monroe) plays Will Wagstaffe, a workaholic detective leading the investigation into the deaths of two unconvicted paedophiles.
The two-hour drama, set in London, is written by acclaimed writer Chris Lang (Unforgotten, A Mother’s Son) and based on the novel Suffer the Children by Adam Creed.
Dark Heart is an ITV Studios production for ITV Encore. It is executive produced by Lang, Kate Bartlett (Jericho, Vera) and Michael Dawson (Vera, Holby City). The producer is Chris Clough (The Missing, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man) and the director is Colin Teague (Jekyll & Hyde, Da Vinci’s Demons).
ITV Studios’ Bartlett said: “Chris Lang has written a truly compelling and atmospheric script. Adam Creed created a fascinating character in Will Wagstaffe with so many layers, and Chris has brilliantly brought him to screen. We’re thrilled Tom Riley is playing him.”
Still on the subject of novel adaptations, there are reports this week that Endemol Shine-owned drama label Kudos has picked up the rights to Robert Harris’s best-selling Ancient Rome-based Cicero Trilogy, which comprises the novels Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator. No broadcaster is attached and Kudos is yet to decide on the format of the adaptation, but the project is likely to attract interest given the calibre of those involved.
In a busy week for new production announcements, pan-European satellite broadcaster Sky and Germany’s Bavaria Film announced that they are developing a €25m (US$27.5m) TV series based on the classic wartime submariner novels Das Boot and Die Festung by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. The series is being set up as a sequel to the 1981 film version of Buchmein’s novels.
Set in 1942 during the Second World War, the eight-hour series will focus mainly on the German point of view as submarine warfare became increasingly ferocious. Tony Saint (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley, The Interceptor) and Johannes W Betz (The Tunnel, The Spiegel Affair) have been signed up as head writers, while Oliver Vogel and Moritz Polter are attached as executive producers.
Christian Franckenstein, CEO of Bavaria Film, said: “The 1981 film Das Boot is unique, and we are approaching our work with the greatest of respect for this masterpiece. We want to build on the strong brand of Das Boot, telling the story in a contemporary manner by making use of every filmmaking and storytelling technique available to us.”
Still in Germany, UFA Fiction has just unveiled plans to make a film biopic based on the lives of magicians Siegfried and Roy, two of the few truly global celebrities Germany has ever produced.
The film, which will likely be extended into a miniseries for television, will be directed by Philipp Stölzl (Winnetou, Young Goethe in Love, North Face) and scripted by Jan Berger.
Nico Hofmann, UFA producer and co-CEO, commented: “The prospect of working with Siegfried and Roy is the fulfilment of a long-held dream. It’s not only the story of two Germans who became world famous but a plunge into the world of magic and illusion. The lifework of Siegfried and Roy derives from an almost inexhaustible store of energy and creativity. This is the story of two men who set new, never repeated standards in the tough world of show business.”
Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Uwe Horn met on a cruise ship in 1960, where they developed their first joint show, driven by their shared passion for the art of magic and illusion. They had their international breakthrough in 1966 at a charity show in Monte Carlo. From 1990, they had their own show at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas featuring white tigers, which became their trademark. The spectacular Siegfried and Roy Show was one of the most elaborate stage shows ever. On October 3, 2003, however, the artists’ unique career was brought to an abrupt halt when Roy was critically injured by his favourite tiger, Montecore.
Alongside all of the above production activity, it has also been a busy week for distributors. ITV’s Maigret has been sold by distributor BBC Worldwide to broadcasters including Channel One in Russia, NRK in Norway, TVNZ in New Zealand, RTÉ in Ireland, Finland’s YLE and Prima TV in the Czech Republic. Simultaneously, StudioCanal has sold Section Zéro to Channel One Russia.
AMC’s international network AMC Global, meanwhile, today announced that it has acquired the upcoming anthology drama series The Terror, an adaption of the bestselling novel by Dan Simmons. Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360 are producing the 10-episode drama, which will premiere globally within minutes of its broadcast on AMC in the US.
Written for TV by David Kajganich, the series is set in 1847, when a Royal Naval expedition crew searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks the ships and their crew in a desperate game of survival.
“We’re very excited to bring this gripping dramatic story to AMC Global,” commented Harold Gronenthal, exec VP of programming and operations for AMC and Sundance Channel Global. “With a distinctive combination of science fiction and historical non-fiction, The Terror will complement AMC Global series as Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands.”
Finally, there are reports this week that showrunner Bryan Fuller is still hoping to revive serial killer drama Hannibal. The show was cancelled by NBC after three seasons but Fuller said there might be room for a revival in late 2017 – once he has dealt with the small matter of a Star Trek reboot for CBS and Starz’ American Gods.