The course of Truelove
Six-part drama Truelove flips the script on romance with an older central couple who become embroiled in a story of love and death. As co-creators Charlie Covell and Iain Weatherby and executive producer Petra Fried explain, television isn’t just for the younger generation.
Starring actors in their 60s and 70s, Truelove blends the story of an older couple falling in love with a dramatic thriller, as a group of friends imagine the perfect death – and agree to help each other die when the time is right.
Phil, played by Lindsay Duncan, is a former police chief enjoying a comfortable but boring retirement. Ken (Clarke Peters) is a divorcee and special forces veteran who has similarly lost his way. Once teenage sweethearts, the couple have never quite forgotten each other.
Years later when they are both at a friend’s funeral, they join a gang of old mates to wallow in nostalgia and booze. After the conversation enters darker territory – what the ideal death might look like – they make a drunken pact: rather than let each other suffer a dreadful decline, they will help each other design a dignified death when the time is right – and a crazy idea soon becomes a shocking reality.
The upcoming six-part Channel 4 drama also stars Sue Johnston, Phil Davis, Peter Egan, Karl Johnson, Fiona Button and Kiran Sonia Sawar, while the series also reunites The End of the F***ing World creator Charlie Covell with producer Clerkenwell Films. BBC Studios is the distributor.
It was while Covell and fellow writer Iain Weatherby (Humans) were having lunch one day that they struck upon the idea behind Truelove, before they pitched it to Clerkenwell joint MD and series executive producer Petra Fried.
“We were talking about characters and how my granny had said to my mum, ‘Oh, if I get like that, take me out the back and shoot me,’” Covell tells DQ. “My mum was like, ‘Obviously I’m not going to do that,’ but it started this conversation about the fact everyone says it but no one ever does it. What happens if you have these two people who actually do that? It created this germ of an idea and it got richer and bigger. It’s been a long time in the offing.”
“We knew Iain because we were developing a show with him as well, and Charlie told us their idea and I loved it straight away,” says Fried. “At some point it was called the ‘bastard grandparent’ of The End of the F***ing World. It’s turned into its own thing but it felt really exciting to be talking about something that was trying to look at older people in a way we don’t normally see them.
“It was a strong, edgy piece of drama but it was so different. We make a lot of young-adult shows, but why should it be just the kids who get all the exciting content? We should make something for older audiences too.”
The thriller element of the story sees Phil and Ken receive a special request that results in them doing “something that isn’t legal,” Weatherby teases. “They are then under pressure, but are they going to get away with it? I love anything where you see ordinary people suddenly thrown into extraordinary situations, and that’s what happens here.”
Covell explains: “Phil is a retired policewoman trying to commit a crime and seeing if she can cover it up, and then we have this younger police officer played by Kiran, who is great because she’s just brilliant and she’s really funny and she has a very deadpan, throwaway manner. She’s trailing them, so you have that procedural element but hopefully in a way that feels slightly different from how it might in other shows. It gives us jeopardy and keeps the momentum going, but it should feel different from other shows about death and murder.”
Then there’s the “very old, slow-burn romance” between Phil and Ken, “which we think is a beautiful love story,” Weatherby says.
Covell picks up: “You don’t think about writing older or younger characters. You only think about writing. With Ken and Phil, there is this central tragedy and longing that they wanted to be together when they were younger, but they didn’t end up together. So it’s that thing of what happens if you’re still in love with the person you loved when you were 17, but now you’re in your 70s?
“It’s like the older you get, the fewer fucks you give in some cases, so a love you can pursue when it rears its head again, do you go for it or do you not? That’s the thing we’re examining. Thematically, death is very large in this show and, ironically, it makes them feel the most alive they have in years. Hopefully the audience will fall in love with them and their romance. It’s not easy, it’s a complicated thing.”
Directed by Chloe Wicks (The Flatshare) and Carl Tibbetts (The Tunnel), the show walks a tightrope between dramatic and heartfelt moments, but that’s not to say there isn’t a great deal of dark humour mixed in – as you might expect from the team behind The End of the F***ing World. “I can’t love anything that isn’t funny some of the time,” Weatherby says. “When you hear somebody say, ‘If I get like that, take me out the back and shoot me,’ they’re making a joke to cope with the situation they’re in, so it’s both a terrible thing to say but also a funny thing. Human instinct is to cope with tough stuff in that way.”
That it also deals in some weighty topics – flipping the script with older romance on screen and assisted suicide – doesn’t mean Truelove is an issue-led drama. “In no shape or form could you call this an issue-based show – and that’s one of the things I love about it the most,” Fried says. “There are really interesting issues and issues that have universal, international appeal, but it’s all in a brilliant story so you don’t think, ‘Oh, there’s an issue-based show, it’s going to be grim, it’s not going to be much fun.’ It’s the opposite of that; it’s very fun, and even though it’s a show about death, it’s a really uplifting show with very positive messages about love when you get older.”
Covell and Weatherby are co-creators of the series, with Weatherby writing the scripts alongside Cherish Shirley (Everything I Know About Love), who penned episode four. Filming on location in Bristol, the directors forged a “really cinematic but classic” style that avoids putting older actors in a series like The End of the F***ing World or fellow Clerkenwell show Misfits.
“That wasn’t our ambition,” Fried says. “It’s a show that has a lot of emotional moments, and you want to be very true to those, so I’m really happy with the look of the show. We’ve found a great balance to make something that is visually engaging as much as it is dramatically and emotionally engaging.
“We’ve also enjoyed working with the soundtrack Iain and Charlie wrote into the script from the earliest days. The commercial music is from the youth of the characters, so there’s a lot of great music from the 1970s, beginning with a David Bowie track, and there’s Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.”
Airing on Channel 4 in 2024, Truelove is an emotional and exciting story that “transcends boundaries” by dealing with issues that are relevant to any audience.
“It’s got thriller elements, a great cast. It just feels like a show that will work wherever you watch it,” Fried says. “Like the best drama that works internationally at the moment, the specificity of the English locations and the very specific Britishness of it is something that will appeal the world over. It’s a very strong flavour – and combined with the excitement of the unusual elements this story offers, you’ve got a very exciting offering.”