EXCLUSIVE: Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen, The Good Fight’s Michael Sheen and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford are to star in Quiz, a drama about the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? cheating scandal, for AMC and ITV.
The Breaking Bad broadcaster and the British commercial network have commissioned the TV adaptation of Brexit: An Uncivil War writer James Graham’s play from The Crown producer Left Bank Pictures with A Very English Scandal’s Stephen Frears to direct.
This comes over a year after Deadline revealed that the Sony-owned producer was turning the play into a television drama.
Quiz tells the story of Charles Ingram, a former British army major, who caused a major scandal in the early 2000s after being caught cheating his way to winning £1 million on the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It tells how Ingram, his wife Diana and an accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, who was sitting in the audience, initially pulled off the on-screen heist before being caught and standing trial.
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Macfadyen, who is currently starring in the second season of HBO’s Succession, stars as Ingram; Sheen, who recently starred in Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, plays Millionaire host Chris Tarrant; and Clifford, who played Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sister in hit comedy Fleabag stars as Diana Ingram.
Catastrophe star Mark Bonnar plays Paul Smith, Chairman of Millionaire producer Celador Television; Peaky Blinders’ Helen McCrory plays Sonia Woodley QC; Les Miserables’ Michael Jibson stars as Tecwen Whittock; and Aisling Bea, whose comedy This Way Up just launched on Channel 4, plays ITV Entertainment Commissioner, Claudia Rosencrantz.
The three-part drama will give insight into what went on behind the scenes as Celador’s Smith and one of the show’s creators, David Briggs, originally pitched the idea of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to ITV’s newly installed Director of Programmes, David Liddiment, as well as how the Ingrams became fixated with appearing on the popular quiz show, which in its heyday attracted audiences of 19 million viewers. The scandal, which was dubbed the Coughing Major in the UK press, went down in television folklore.
Quiz first started as a play with a sold out run at Chichester Festival Theatre, is a provocative re-examination of the case against the Coughing Major, a fictional imagination based on real 2001 events. Graham is a prolific playwright and has also written a number of TV and film projects. He wrote C4 and HBO’s Brexit, ITV drama Caught in a Trap and Channel 4 drama Coalition, about the forming of the coalition government in 2010. Other credits include an episode of ITV’s Billie Piper-fronted Secret Diary of a Call Girl and feature film X and Y, the story of young math prodigies on a trip to China, which was produced by Origin Pictures and BBC Films and starred Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan in 2015.
Left Bank Pictures, run by Andy Harries, who was Head of Comedy and Drama at ITV when the scandal took place, produces with Harries exec producing alongside Dan Winch (A Very English Scandal), William Village, Graham and Frears. Filming on the three-part drama, which was commissioned for ITV by Head of Drama, Polly Hill, is currently underway in London.
Graham said, “I was gripped by this story over 15 years ago, and I’m still gripped now. It’s a very English heist. Putting it onto stage at Chichester and the West End was such a lot of fun, and with a new team we now get to re-imagine the whole story afresh for television. I have to pay credit to the late investigative journalist Bob Woffinden, who along with James Plaskett wrote the book Bad Show that kicked the whole creative process off by asking the question – what if the Major is innocent?”
Sarah Barnett, President of the Entertainment Networks Group at AMC Networks said, “If this tale was invented you’d think it too preposterous – the fact that it is true, and told so brilliantly, makes for an unmissable three-part TV event that will entertain and enthrall Americans audiences every bit as much as their British counterparts. Quiz has the most remarkable bunch of talented people attached both in front of and behind the camera, and we, at AMC, are delighted to be part of it.”
ITV’s Hill said, “I am delighted to be bringing James Graham’s wonderful play Quiz to screen on ITV. It’s testament to James’ brilliant scripts that Stephen Frears is directing, which together with Left Bank Pictures producing, promises to deliver a very special drama. It’s an extraordinary and thoroughly British story and is going to be a real treat for our audience.”
Left Bank’s Harries said: “This is a uniquely British story, as relevant and funny today as it was 18 years ago because the brilliance of James Graham’s writing and his insight into British cultural life. And no one directs this sort of story better than Stephen Frears.”
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