Projects from Riz Ahmed, David Harewood and The Fall creator Allan Cubitt lead an ambitious line-up of new commissions from BBC Two. The British public broadcaster has unveiled a huge slate of shows for its second channel ranging from high-end dramas and comedies through to documentary series.
In drama, it has ordered Englistan, created by The Night Of star Riz Ahmed. The nine-part series, which is produced by BBC Studios Drama London and Ahmed’s own Left Handed Films, is the story of three generations of a British Pakistani families as they pursue their dreams over four tumultuous decades, navigating shifting circumstances and evolving loyalties. The drama will re-frame recent British history, and shine a light on the forces that have remade British society what it is today. It will be exec produced by Ahmed, Esther Springer, Hilary Salmon and Lucy Richer.
The Fall creator Cubitt is adapting Eugene McCabe’s modern Irish novel Death and Nightingales, a story of love, betrayal, deception and revenge, set in the beautiful, haunting countryside of Fermanagh in 1885. It is set in a world of spies, confessions and double dealing; where a pervading sense of beauty is shot through with menace and impending doom, centred around the 25th birthday of Beth Winters. The three-part series is produced by Imaginarium and Soho Moon is produced by Jonathan Cavendish and exec produced by James Mitchell and Tommy Bulfin and supported by Northern Ireland Screen.
Gwyneth Hughes, creator of HBO and BBC’s Sienna Miller-fronted The Girls, about Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, is writing Doing Money, a shocking true story about slavery in modern Britain. The one-off drama, which is produced by Warner Bros-owned Renegade Pictures, follows the heart-breaking and compelling story of Ana, a young Romanian woman snatched in broad daylight from a London street, trafficked to Ireland and used as a sex slave in a series of ‘pop up’ brothels. The 90-minute film was written by Hughes is directed by The Boy With The Top Knot’s Lynsey Miller, is produced by Mike Dormer and exec produced by Alex Cooke and Lucy Richer.
In comedy, Captain America and Sherlock star Toby Jones is writing Don’t Forget The Driver, a dark comedy set in sunny, seaside Bognor Regis. Set against the backdrop of Brexit, where the UK population is having to come to terms with the changing colour of their passports, the series, written in association with playwright Tim Crouch, tells the story of a coach driver and single dad, played by Jones. The six-part series is produced by Jane Featherstone’s Sister Pictures and is exec produced by Featherstone, Naomi de Pear and Kate Daughton.
Humans’ Katherine Parkinson and Flowers’ Will Sharpe are starring in a six-part series based on Alex McBride’s book Defending the Guilty: Truth and Lies in the Criminal Courtroom. Defending the Guilty, produced by Big Talk Productions, will see Sharpe play an idealistic pupil barrister being shown the ropes by his cynical, worldly-wise pupilmaster Caroline. Written by Cuckoo’s Kieron Quirke, the series is produced by Georgie Fallon, directed by The Wrong Man’s Jim Field Smith and is exec produced by Kenton Allen, Saurabh Kakkar, Jim Field Smith, Kieron Quirke and Kate Daughton.
The Other One is a six-part comedy about what happens when you discover your dead Dad has a secret family and you now have a brand new sister. Starring Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey), Rebecca Front (The Thick of It), Ellie White (Inside No 9), Lauren Socha (Catastrophe) and Amit Shah (W1A), the series was created by Motherland’s Holly Walsh and written by Walsh and Bad Education’s Pippa Brown. It is exec produced by Walsh and Ben Cavey for Cave Bear Productions.
On a more serious front, Homeland star David Harewood is fronting Psychosis & Me (w/t), a documentary about how he suffered a mental breakdown at 23 and was sectioned and taken into hospital, where he was treated with antipsychotic medication. Harewood explores what happened to him and tries to understand why it happened in the deeply personal film. The 60-minute doc is produced by Films of Record, directed by Wendie Ottewill and produced by Olivia Isaacs.
Tim Hincks and Peter Fincham’s Expectation is investigating Murder (w/t) in an eight-part series. The doc series will offer viewers the chance to experience a murder investigation through the eyes of detectives, specialists, scientists and lawyers. It will feature filming from multiple viewpoints, intercut and in real time. Expectation Factual’s Colin Barr and Dominique Foster exec produce.
BBC Two is also exploring the crisis in Syria in The Assads. The three-part doc series will look at the Assad dynasty, who were previously welcomed with open arms in Britain with President Bashar and his wife Asma meeting and falling in love in London. Produced by 72 Films, the series is exec produced by David Glover, Mark Raphael and Simon Finch, directed by Nick Green and series produced by Kate Quine.
Controversial comedian Frankie Boyle is heading to Russia in a two-part doc ahead of the World Cup. Frankie Goes to Russia will see Boyle go behind the stereotypes and half-truths of Russian football and culture as the World Cup is about to kick off against a backdrop of spy poisoning, alleged state-sponsored doping, threats of ultra-football hooliganism and perhaps the worst relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Produced by ITN Productions, the series is directed and produced by Jenny Dames and exec produced by Bernie Kay.
Finally, BBC Two is exploring a kibbutz in a two-part series from All3Media-owned Lion TV. Kibbutz will see eight British Jews with a broad range of opinions, beliefs and practices, go on a journey to examine some of the most pressing questions facing the Jewish community in 2018
BBC Two Controller Patrick Holland, who commissioned the slate alongside a slew of commissioners, said the channel was “the first TV outsider, the first to question the mainstream, the first with a mission to be unorthodox”.
“It was established in the 60’s with a mandate to do things differently, to think differently, to hear from different voices. It was a challenger brand long before the term even existed. It has been my mission to bring these qualities, BBC Two’s unorthodox DNA, back to the centre of the channel. It is this DNA that, at its best, makes BBC Two the most exciting channel on TV today. It’s a place to wrestle with what’s happening to the world. To challenge your views and assumptions. Change your mind. Right now, I don’t think this could ever be more important. In a world of fake news and filter bubbles, we are too often tempted into an oversimplified, binary view of the world – love or hate, in or out, for or against.”
He said he hoped the new shows has a “sense of mischief”. “It’s always stimulating but it’s fun and playful too…It’s this light and shade that makes BBC Two at its best feel so vital, plugged into the mains. Blending strong opinions and bold perspectives with brilliant comic voices and finger-on-the-pulse entertainment. Never afraid of provoking, knowing we may upset people along the way. The titles I have talked about today could never have been commissioned alone by a Silicon Valley algorithm. You can’t write code that replaces human insight.”