A week is a long time in British politics and even longer if the future of the big-budget drama that you make depends on how the UK government deals with the future of Northern Ireland after Brexit.
This is the case for Dublin Murders, the eight-part crime drama produced by Fremantle’s Euston Films and Dublin-based Element Pictures for BBC One, Ireland’s RTÉ and Starz in association with Northern Ireland Screen.
The series, which is an adaptation of Tana French’s crime thrillers, was filmed between Belfast and Derry in Northern Ireland and Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. It began airing on the BBC on October 14 ahead of its U.S. debut on November 10 and is set up as a returnable drama, given that there are six books in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.
However, until Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit deal, which is still struggling in the British Parliament, there was the worry that there would have to be major changes to production if the drama was recommissioned.
The issue is Northern Ireland border checks once the UK leaves the European Union. The concern was that after Brexit, there would once again be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which will remain an EU member. Despite the contentious nature of Johnson’s latest deal, it does not include customs checks between the north and the south and instead puts the border down the middle of the Irish sea.
Kate Harwood, managing director of Euston Films, told Deadline that they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to freely move the multi-million-dollar production, including a crew largely from Northern Ireland, and a cast largely made up actors from the Republic of Ireland, around the country.
“We were all looking at some concern about border checks in Ireland. Now we have the border down the Irish sea, so as we are talking now, I think some of the issues that might have arisen have receded,” she said, although she joked that a “morning is a long time in Brexit”.
Dublin Murders stars C.B. Strike’s Killian Scott as Rob Reilly, a smart-suited detective whose English accent marks him as an outsider, who is dispatched to investigate the murder of a young girl on the outskirts of Dublin with his partner, Cassie Maddox, played by Penny Dreadful’s Sarah Greene. Against his better judgment and protected by his friendship with Cassie, he is pulled back into another case of missing children and forced to confront his own darkness. As the case intensifies, Rob and Cassie’s relationship is tested to the breaking point and when Cassie is sent undercover for another murder case, she is forced to come face to face with her own brutal reckoning.
Around 80% of the show was filmed in Belfast and Derry at two main locations – the woods where a young girl was murdered and a Georgian house in the countryside, while the remaining 20% was filmed in the city of Dublin itself. Harwood said crews in Northern Ireland have vastly improved thanks to the success and support of Game of Thrones. “The crews in Northern Ireland are so experienced and resilient and proud of the growth of that industry, which was kicked off by Game of Thrones, and in the last ten years, they’ve grown a proper world class industry,” she said.
Harwood was concerned that a hard border would have thrown potential future seasons of the shows into chaos with the threat of carnets. “We want to make the show in the same way next time if we’re lucky enough to come back. We absolutely don’t want to pull back to just filming in Belfast, nor do we want to have to find another way. We want to carry on,” she said.
In fact, she is hoping to double down on working in Northern Ireland. For the first season of the show, 80% of the post-production was done in Belfast, via Yellow Moon, and she’s hoping that the entirety of post-production would be done there in future. “I remember when BBC Northern Ireland was a cottage industry; they did highly respected single films in the 90s and early noughties but nothing of this scale. There was always a very high quality that came out of Northern Ireland but nothing quite at this level,” she added.
In Dublin, director John Hayes, who has worked on Game of Thrones, Vikings and Doctor Who, was integral in filming a gritty Dublin in the fourth and seventh episodes of the show. “We don’t spend too much time in the center of Dublin, there’s not that much set in the cityscape, but John Hay was very canny about putting Dublin on screen, he wanted to avoid touristy Dublin and make it feel like it was really inhabited by someone who knew it,” Harwood said. Element Pictures, which owned the rights to one of the novels, was also integral to the Irish elements of the story.
The show, which was written by Sarah Phelps, who has penned Agatha Christie adaptations including The Witness For The Prosecution and And Then There Were None, has been a hit for BBC One, averaging around 4M viewers per episode. But Harwood admits that there are always challenges bringing big-budget drama to screen. She said that it took a long time to get the rights to French’s books. “The BBC were always very loyal and on side from when we said we wanted to do it and then we had to wait a little bit for Sarah Phelps’ time. As always with drama, when you have a star writer, their timetable is always part of it,” she said.
Starz came on board later in the process, Harwood joking that they signed up “when we were packing up the camera truck” with the series initially cash-flowed by Fremantle in the knowledge that it would sell internationally. “We were talking to Starz and, as always with these things, it’s about territories, because it’s Starz and Starzplay [across Europe and Latin America], which is exciting.”
The series is the latest high-end drama for Euston Films. The company came out of the blocks with Neil Cross-penned Hard Sun for the BBC and Hulu, and it is also preparing for two further series, Baghdad Central and Because The Night.
Baghdad Central, written by The Last Kingdom scribe Stephen Butchard and based on the novel by Elliott Colla, is set in 2003 Baghdad after Saddam Hussein has fallen and the city lies at the center of the coalition’s efforts to secure the region. It stars Altered Carbon’s Waleed Zuaiter, Homeland’s July Namir, Condor’s Leem Lubany, Doctor Foster’s Bertie Carvel and House of Cards’ Corey Stoll and is directed by Doctor Who and Lore director Alice Troughton. It will air on Channel 4 in the new year with Hulu coming on board to air it in the U.S.
Euston Films is also currently in the second week of shooting Neil Cross-penned Because The Night. The ghosts and murder drama, for ITV, stars Years & Years’ Russell Tovey, Bertie Carvel, Amrita Acharia (Game of Thrones), Nina Toussaint-White (GameFace) and Paul Bazely (Benidorm).
Having scored dramas on three of the major linear broadcasters in the UK, Harwood said that its next focus is securing a drama on one of the global SVOD platforms. She hopes that its new development slate will help this. “We’ve got some big-scale development, genre and new world development. I’ve been slightly bitten by the bug of getting on a plane and creating Baghdad Central. We’re very keen on world building ideas, particularly for young audiences,” she said.
Ex-BBC drama chief Harwood said that it’s a great time to be a British drama indie, even if it is sometimes “nerve wracking”. “We’re working in a boom, there’s a lot of new markets and opportunities and that’s all fantastic, but there’s also a hell of a lot of competition. In some ways, it’s all fragmenting down so everybody’s trying to hustle through the door of the next place,” she added. “It’s looking very healthy.”