The pair are to front the three-part series, which tells the story of dying days of slavery in Jamaica, alongside a supporting cast, which includes British comedy legend Lenny Henry.
The Long Song starts in 1838 on the British-ruled Caribbean island as three hundred years of slavery came to a chaotic end. The series follows July, a strong-willed young female slave on a Jamaican plantation, played by Lawrance, who goes from being a slave to the mother of a gentleman. The story is told from July’s perspective as she looks back over her life. Atwell plays her odious mistress Caroline Mortimer, while War and Peace’s Jack Lowden plays a charming new island arrival.
Henry stars as Godfrey, Doña Croll (EastEnders) as Old July, Sharon Duncan-Brewster (The Boy with the Topknot) as Kitty, Ayesha Antoine (Chewing Gum) as Molly, Arinzé Kene (King Lear) as Thomas, Ansu Kabia (Murder on the Orient Express) as James Richards, Jordan Bolger (Peaky Blinders) as Nimrod, Joy Richardson (Children of Men) as Miss Rose, Madeleine Mantock (Charmed) as Miss Clara and Leo Bill (Taboo) as John Howarth.
The drama is produced by Heyman’s Heyday Television, a joint venture with NBC Universal International Studios, and will be written by Sarah Williams, who co-wrote BBC One’s Small Island with Paula Milne and ITV’s Case Sensitive. The project had previously been in development as a feature film with Film 4 before being turned into a television.
The three-part series will be exec produced by Heyman, Levy, Williams and Rosie Alison as well as the BBC’s Ben Irving. Roopesh Parekh serves as producer and the drama will be distributed by NBC Universal International Distribution.
The Long Song was commissioned by Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, and Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content and is directed by Mahalia Belo.
Lawrance said it was a “real blessing” to star in the drama. “July relishes mutiny with wit and courage; finding ways to win in spite of her circumstances. She also rings true to Jamaica’s national heroes – Nanny, Paul Bogle and Sam Sharpe – who, by standing up for their own humanity, shifted world history. I believe stories like these illuminate the legacy of slavery in relation to where we are today. It’s all still relevant.”
Atwell added, “I am delighted to be part of this beautiful story written with warmth, sensitivity, humour and intelligence by Andrea Levy. Playing the deeply flawed Caroline Mortimer is a thrilling challenge and entirely new territory for me as an actor. Audiences will fall in love with the story’s remarkable heroine, July, who endures on-going abuses of power with dignity and poise, surviving injustices that were devastatingly prevalent during this time and place in history. It is a story that demands to be told.”
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