Doctor Who himself, Sherlock producers, Wolf Hall star Mark Rylance and others turned out this evening to help tubthump the BBC’s new drama season. There were so many flagship stars at the London event, it was like fish in a barrel. In his porkpie hat, Rylance, a die-hard theater actor who has been anointed by none other than Steven Spielberg to lead his upcoming feature The BFG, said he was curious about what will happen next. Newish Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi told me he’d play the role as long as audiences accepted him. I’d have taken a selfie, but my phone was on the fritz. He’d have been game explaining that his In The Loop co-star James Gandolfini had helped him learn how to be accommodating and gracious with fans. Capaldi was just one of the BBC stars trotted out for tonight’s event that included a brief speech by Director General Tony Hall and a longer, amusing one by Head of Drama Ben Stephenson
In his talk, Stephenson spoke about galvanizing drama and working with U.S. partners to accept one another for their strengths. They’re currently partnered, for example, with The Weinstein Co on War And Peace. The BBC has suffered many public embarrassments in the past couple of years — from the Jimmy Savile scandal to questions on the editorial side. Next year, its charter is up for renewal, and with that come more questions about the license fee Britons pay for the privilege. But really, it’s undeniable that the BBC produces quality drama.
Stephenson announced 43.5 hours of new commissions tonight. That includes (stick with me because the list is long):
* Idris Elba series Luther returning for two hourlong episodes penned by Neil Cross, with filming set for March and an airdate later in 2015;
* One Of Us, a four-part drama series by Harry and Jack Williams of The Missing fame which sees a horrific double murder rock the lives of two families living side by side in isolated rural Scotland. Instead of focusing on the investigation, One Of Us explores the fallout for the grieving relatives, and the dark consequences that threaten to shatter their lives;
* Five-part 1940s thriller SS-GB from Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade based on the novel by Len Deighton and produced by Sid Gentle Films. The series is based on the premise that the Germans won the Battle of Britain, and London is under Nazi occupation. A Scotland Yard detective working under the SS is faced with the dilemma of whether to effectively collaborate, or join the resistance;
* Cop show Cuffs, an eight-part series created and written by Julie Gearey (Prisoners’ Wives) and produced by Tiger Aspect Productions with portrays the everyday rollercoaster of being a police officer in the UK;
* The Secret Agent, a three-part adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel by BAFTA-winning writer Tony Marchant, produced by Line of Duty’s World Productions. In 1886 London, Soho shopkeeper Verloc works as a secret agent for the Russian government. Angry that Britain harbors violent anarchists, the Russians coerce Verloc into planting a bomb that will provoke the authorities to crack down on the extremists. Caught between the Russians and the British police, Verloc reluctantly draws his own family into a tragic terror plot;
* Undercover, a six-part series written by Peter Moffat that’s a political thriller with a lead character who is about to become the first black Director of Public Prosecutions, just as she discovers that her husband and the father of her children has been lying to her for years;
* The A Word, a six-part series by Peter Bowker and co-produced by Fifty Fathoms, Tiger Aspect and Keshet UK based on the Keshet International and July August Productions’ series, which was written and created by Keren Margalit about a family with an autistic son and learning to communicate.
Finally, and among others, BBC Two is prepping The Dresser, a two-hour drama with Anthony Hopkins in the role made famous on film by Albert Finney. Richard Eyre is directing with Colin Callender’s Playground Entertainment and Sonia Friedman Productions producing for BBC Two. Ian McKellen will co-star in the television adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s portrait of theater life backstage. The BBC is also bringing back Top Of The Lake with six more episodes written by Jane Campion.