Thursday, August 24, 2006

BBC's Drama The Street

Acclaimed writer Jimmy McGovern (Cracker, Priest) presents a major new drama series, set in the North of England, which lifts the lid on the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Each emotionally powerful episode, some penned by writers new to television, concentrates on a different house on the street, linked to the others by community and shared experience. An ensemble cast, including Timothy Spall (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mr. Harvey Lights a Candle), Oscar®-winner Jim Broadbent (Iris, Bridget Jones’s Diary), Jane Horrocks (Absolutely Fabulous, Little Voice) and Sue Johnston (Waking the Dead, The Royle Family), deliver performances that are hauntingly real. The Street premieres Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

McGovern was inspired by the late-‘50s television series, The Naked City, famous for its sign-off, “There are eight million stories in the naked city, and this has been one of them.” He says of his series, “The Street is based on the idea that you can walk down any street and knock on any door and there will be a story there. Six doors, and six great stories about ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations.” The Street features mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, a wife and her lover, a husband and wife falling in love all over again, an unexpected friendship, and two estranged sisters being drawn back together.

The Street is also a showcase for some of Britain’s best up-and-coming writing talent. Executive producer Sita Williams (The Forsyte Saga, Reckless, Lost for Words) explains, “Jimmy and I discussed setting up a series where he would be the principal writer and we would bring in new voices — new writers to work with him in a very collaborative way. The writers felt that it was fantastic to be working with Jimmy, to be learning from him, and it was great to see less experienced writers working with someone who is so skilled at his craft. He hasn’t done anything like this before and he really wanted to do it.”

British Press on "The Street"

“You cannot possibly miss Timothy Spall's heart-wrenching performance in The Street. It is touching and funny and deeply humane.” The Times

“Poignant, funny and wonderful.” The Daily Mirror

“Well made and impeccably performed.” Financial Times

“Excellent” Daily Star

“McGovern’s latest promises to be one of the best things on air this spring.” The Independent

“McGovern can still land a punch at twice the speed of his most powerful challenger.” Broadcast

Episode one

Angela Quinn (Jane Horrocks) is a mother of three with a safe — but boring — marriage to Arthur (Daniel Ryan). She’s looking for some extra-marital excitement, and her friend and neighbor, Peter Harper (Shaun Dooley), is happy to oblige. Together, they indulge in breakfast sessions of sex, chocolate and escapism from the struggle and monotony of family life. But a terrible accident involving Peter and her young daughter, Katie, will bring them both crashing down to reality — ending the affair and devastating both families.

Episode one premieres Tuesday, October 3, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Episode two

Stan (Jim Broadbent), a dedicated warehouse foreman, is doing his best to ignore his looming retirement. Having worked for the same company for more than 40 years, Stan has grown to love his job and the sense of purpose that it gives him. With his 65th birthday three weeks away, he is forced into retirement. Stan is crushed — he wanted to work on a part-time basis or at least volunteer while collecting his pension. But things are even worse than he thought. He learns that his pension will not even cover basic living expenses in retirement. To get a larger sum, he’ll have to die. Pushed to the edge, Stan decides to kill himself. After several failed attempts, his wife Brenda (Sue Johnson) has him committed. Could the court case resulting from Katie’s accident give Stan the chance to make a difference and re-establish his will to live?

Episode two premieres Tuesday, October 10, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Episode three

Life seems to be going well for respectable teacher Brian Peterson (Neil Dudgeon) and his wife Ann (Lindsey Coulson). That is, until Brian is caught in an embarrassing situation while jogging in the park. As a result, the father of one of his pupils thinks he’s a flasher. The following night, Brian decides to put what happened behind him and attend a parents’ evening at school — but the girl’s younger sister recognizes him. The father goes to the police, and mischievous pupils make additional allegations. During the investigation, skeletons from Brian’s past come back to haunt him — he has a prior conviction for indecent exposure, which he neglected to mention either to his wife or on his application to be a teacher. Brian’s soon ostracized by neighbors and friends, and even his wife has trouble believing him. Even if he’s found innocent, can his marriage survive the lack of trust this incident has unearthed?

Episode three premieres Tuesday, October 17, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Episode four

Aspiring soccer player Billy Roberts (Jody Latham) lives with his father, John (Davis Schofield), who is blind. In order to make ends meet — and reach for his dreams — he manages to fit in a part-time job at a dairy before he heads to a long day of training. All the kids on the street look up to Billy, especially his childhood friend, Mick, who admires him for not getting dragged down the wrong path by delinquents in the area. However, while visiting the soccer club’s sponsors, Billy is caught stealing an extra pair of trainers for Terry (Ciaran Griffiths), a less reputable friend. Despite his father’s pleas, the club has no choice but to throw Billy out and shatter his dreams of becoming a star player. Disheartened, Billy is offered the opportunity of a more lucrative career by Terry — selling drugs. After some persuasion, the lure of a life in the fast lane is too tempting to turn down.

Episode four premieres Tuesday, October 24, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Episode five

While working an extra shift to pay the bills, taxi driver Eddie (Timothy Spall) picks up Ojo (Jamiu Adebiyi), an asylum seeker. Eddie’s unable to drop him off because Ojo’s shelter is closed for the night. The kind-hearted cab driver invites Ojo home, much to the consternation of his wife, Margie (Ger Ryan). Despite the language barrier, Eddie takes Ojo under his wing, and an unlikely friendship develops between the two men. In fact, when it comes down to a choice between his wife and Ojo, it’s Margie who moves out. Meanwhile, Ojo has taken a shine to Yvonne (Christine Bottomley), who lives across the street. Eddie has shared his life with Ojo, so he’s devastated to find out he’s been lying about where he’s from. Feeling let down, he refuses to intervene when Ojo gets in a fight with Yvonne’s estranged husband, Sean (Lee Ingleby). As a result, Ojo is arrested, and Eddie is reunited with his wife. Only when Yvonne returns from the police station does Eddie discover why Ojo’s been lying and why his life is in danger.

Episode five premieres Tuesday, October 31, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Episode six

Hot-headed bully Sean (Lee Ingleby) lives unhappily with his wife, Yvonne (Christine Bottomley) and their three young children. Despite his failings as a husband and father, Yvonne finds it difficult to walk away. Though Yvonne tries to hide the abuse, her mother, Mary, and her estranged sister, Kerry (Joanne Froggatt), aren’t easily fooled. Kerry arrives offering support and safety in numbers, much to the annoyance of Sean. With Kerry’s help, will Yvonne finally find the courage to bury her past and discover there’s a good life to be had without Sean?

Episode six premieres Tuesday, November 7, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Interview with Writer Jimmy McGovern

On The Street’s basic premise:

“The Street is based on the idea that you can walk down any street and knock on any door and there will be a story there. Six great stories about ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations. The stories revolve around love. I’ve never come across a drama that doesn’t touch on love in some way. Even in Silence of the Lambs there was some weird loving relationship between those two people. It’s an easy thing to say, but behind every door, there’s love. It could be quite perverse love, it could be honorable love or uplifting love — but there is always a love story behind a front door.”

On the writing process, and finding new voices:

“We had a trawl of writers actually. We put out the fact we wanted good unusual stories — we got hundreds in. I’m sad to say that 85 to 90 percent of those stories were regurgitated TV stories — stories you were already sick of seeing. There were very few that were fresh and new. We didn't go with writers just because of what they have done in the past. The main thing was finding six great stories.”

On the location:

“You know that song, New York, New York, ‘if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere’— I think that’s total nonsense. There are so many cultural opportunities in New York and more so in London. With all the empty spaces in theatres in London, if you can’t get a play on in London it’s not because you’re unlucky, it’s because you’re crap! I see no reason for us to take our work and stage it on the streets of London.”

The following are excerpts from a Writers Guild Foundation interview with Jimmy McGovern taped in Los Angeles in July, 2006 as part of their Writers on Writing series. © Writers Guild Foundation

How did you come to write The Street?

“I think as a writer you’re always looking for a very fertile idea that’s got great flexibility and can carry on into fifteen, twenty years time and make you loads of money (laughs). But the main thing is total flexibility. To find some kind of vehicle upon which you can tell any story. It doesn’t have to be the people living on the street, it can be doctors visiting the street, a police officer. I just think it’s a wonderful idea. Wagon Train was the same type of story. It was people going out west, and each week you got a self-contained hour drama told about the people on that wagon train. And it could be anybody. It’s a great way to tell stories. And of course Wagon Train is based on Chaucer, the story of people going on pilgrimage.”

How much of the material you’ve written is autobiographical?

“Almost everything. There’s so much of me in every character. That’s a very easy thing to say when you’re writing a noble character or a hero. But what if it’s a child abuser, or a rapist, or the most perverted person in the universe? The way you write that, I argue, is you find the child abuser within yourself, the rapist within yourself, all that dirt within yourself.”

In America, each episode of The Street would have some kind of happy, upbeat ending, but yours end in destruction. Where is that coming from?

“I just think we have to be real. I think part of our craft is convincing people that what they are seeing on the screen is real. I know everybody sees that story (episode one) in a certain way, but I see something else in that story. I see an old married couple who took each other for granted and had forgotten the fact that they loved each other. Something happened, which made them realize that they loved each other, and that was a shock! I see hope in that story. And, in the way in which she confronts the guy because she decides justice is required here. It’s going to cause her heartbreak and embarrassment in her family, but justice is more important. He must be made to pay. So I see it quite uplifting, that ending!”

Which do you prefer, television or film?

“I prefer television because you get it done. I wrote the first draft of a film about Mary, Queen of Scots when the script editor was pregnant. It’s still not being made and the baby is now eight years of age. That’s the reality of movies. TV gets made. We can have an idea and it’s on the screen in twelve months. Also, there are certain kinds of stories that have to invade people’s houses. People are not going to choose to go out and watch them. Put it on in their home, and they find themselves watching. Some issues are far too important to be movies. They have to be television.”

Interview with Jane Horrocks

On her character, Angela:

“Angela is a frustrated housewife whose 15-year-old marriage has grown stale. She suddenly has a chance to have an affair and takes it. Things do get a bit raunchy, but it’s not Sharon Stone material. I always seem to get the parts involving sex and chocolate (referring to her previous role in Mike Leigh’s Life Is Sweet, alongside her co-stars from The Street, Jim Broadbent and Timothy Spall). Shaun Dooley, who plays my lover, is very easy to work with and we just had a bit of giggle, really. In fact, he was a virgin and I broke him in — he’d never done a sex scene before on television.”

On The Street:

“I’ve always greatly admired Jimmy McGovern’s work and to be asked to do this is a huge honor. The stories are very real. I think Jimmy has done a fantastic job. Jimmy’s made it politically and socially very interesting — he’s made it come alive.”

On the location:

“It has been five years since I last worked in Manchester, so it was also great being there again because it meant I could spend time with my parents and catch up with old friends.”

Interview with Jim Broadbent

On his character, Stan:

“Stan is a fairly vigorous man who reaches retirement age. He enjoyed his work but is made redundant which is bad enough, but he then finds out that his pension, which he has been diligently paying all those years, is not worth what he’s expecting, as so many people are finding. So we find him in rather a bitter mood. Bitter with the world. But there are lots of twists and turns in the plot obviously.”

On how current events fed the character:

“We’ve all grown up assuming that there will be this comfort zone approaching where everything is going to be alright. But when the Mirror (newspaper) pension fund collapsed, I suddenly realized that pensions aren’t necessarily set in stone. I suppose now it’s becoming a much greater problem, and for millions of people their pensions are not going to be what they are expecting by any means, and I think a lot of people will be angry in different ways.”

On The Street:

“The whole idea of The Street was irresistible really because Jimmy McGovern is such a wonderful writer, and David Blair is a lovely director. I enjoy working with him a lot. I'd never met or worked with Jimmy before but I have admired his work. The script was just so funny, so moving, but entertaining. There’s a great cast — Sue Johnston’s an icon really, and when you get people like her drawn to it, the whole projects lifts. She is just wonderful.

Interview with Timothy Spall

On his character, Eddie:

“Eddie wouldn’t hesitate to help someone who needs it, which is why he ends up taking an asylum seeker home. There’s something quite innocent about Eddie, he is open-minded and open-hearted. The lovely thing about the story is that Eddie and Ojo build up a really nice relationship — they have a connection. It’s like a strange kind of love story in a weird way. There's nothing sexual in it obviously, but they really find, in this odd series of events, a kind of great affection for each other, an incongruous one, which shows it’s completely universal, really.

On how current events fed the character:

“In its own simple way this story says a lot more about race relations and prejudices, than a story that would be far more interested in waving its political flag. Obviously there are all sorts of objections to asylum seekers in this country because our system is bursting at the seams, but if you really deconstruct it, and break it down to you being in that position, why on Earth would you leave your home country and everything you know and love — if you have children drag them over in appalling conditions to get away from a country? Is that really just to enjoy shopping and getting child benefits? No. It's an act of desperation. If you’re an asylum seeker it means you’re seeking asylum from a place you are being persecuted or you might be executed. So actually, if you want to say don’t let them in, you’re being ruthless, I think.”

On The Street:

“This was the first thing I read after I decided to take a bit of time off and I couldn't resist it. I’ve never worked with Jimmy McGovern before — I’ve always loved his stuff — so to get the opportunity was fantastic. I’ve also seen episode one, and I thought it was absolutely tremendous. What Jimmy does, he writes about ordinary people who get themselves in extraordinary situations, and he just writes absolutely truthfully and honestly about the consequences of their actions in a non-soapy way. He really does have a massive talent and his finger right on the human condition. He always surprises you. The stories are so beautifully told, the dialogue always authentic and you always go on an emotional journey with the character and he has a wonderful sense of humor. It was a pleasure to do this project actually. David Blair is such a great director and I’ve worked with some of the crew before so it was like working with old friends. Jim (Broadbent) and Jane (Horrocks) are old pals, we’ve done quite a few projects together over the last 15 years. It is a delight to not only work with people you really like, people you respect on good projects is like a dream really. It is what you strive to achieve.”

On the location, and where he grew up:

“It was only the second time I've worked in Manchester and I absolutely loved being there too. I was brought up in Battersea (South London) on a street very similar to this. There was a sense of community. I remember playing football in the streets and all our parents knew each other. A lot of these places in London have long gone now. We had a wonderful time as kids, you felt very safe.”