EXCLUSIVE: BBC Studios, the production division responsible for series including Doctor Who, Good Omens and Luther, is developing a high-end drama based on the real-life story behind the murderous and Machiavellian Lady Macbeth.
BBC Studios North, which is run by Prey and Queer As Folk producer Tom Sherry, and its Scottish division, has developed a pilot for Lady Macbeth, which is set before the Shakespeare play and is looking to package the project before taking it out to the global streaming platforms and U.S. cable networks.
It tells the epic and violent tale of Lady Macbeth from the female perspective, when she was Gruoch Ingen Boite, married to the Mormaer of Moray Gille Coemgain Mac Mail Brigti.
Gruoch, who has strong beliefs in witchcraft, sees a premonition of the death of her own son at the hands of Macbeth so to protect him she takes it into her own hands to kill Macbeth. However, he was not there and she ends up killing his father after he attempted to rape her, as well as the rest of the family in the castle. Subsequently, her husband seeks permission from Malcolm, the King of Scotland, to kill Macbeth, who says yes but warns Macbeth who kills the husband. Malcolm’s solution to stop the two families warring is for the pair to marry.
“That’s our opening episode and that’s the start of the story about how these two murderous, plotting, politically Machiavellian characters come together and don’t trust one another and don’t like each other,” said Sherry. “I’ve worked on some pretty dramatic stories in my time but I can’t think of one that is so incredibly plotted with murder and intrigue.”
The former Red Production Company executive added that he wants to tell a broader story than the one told in the Shakespeare play.
The series is not in development with the BBC itself as it is seeking third party broadcasters, a move enabled by BBC Studios transformation into a commercial entity last April.
“BBC Studios doesn’t want to be limited by our opportunities by the core channels that we have in the UK. We want to be able to show that we are a content creator of world class standing that can make shows for any [streaming] platforms and U.S. networks,” Sherry said. “This more than any of our ideas feels genuinely too big for the UK. If you look back at Game of Thrones, it’s enormously globally successful but actually too big for public service BBC to put out in terms of its aspiration and also it would dominate a single channel and the same would go with something like Vikings.”
The pilot episode was written by Svet Rouskov, who wrote sci-fi feature The Colony, and co-created with David Murdoch, who runs Glasgow-based indie Sinner Films and recently co-scripted Netflix original feature The Most Assassinated Woman in the World. The pair will write and executive produce along with Matt Leipzig of Original Artists and Brent Jordan Sherman of The Characters Talent Agency as well as Sherry, who is looking for A-list names to join the project.
The project is set to be titled Lady Macbeth, despite William Oldroyd’s 2016 film starring Florence Pugh. The film did not tell the story of the eponymous Scottish queen. “If your title should say what it does on the tin, we win hands down on that one,” said Sherry.