Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer, Sherlock‘s Martin Freeman and the soon-to-be star of The Crown Imelda Staunton are among those attached to the project, which will breathe new life into the BAFTA-winning show that ran for two seasons in 1988 and a decade later in 1998.
Talking Heads will be produced by London Theatre Company for BBC One, and overseen by Bennett’s long-time collaborator Sir Nicholas Hytner, who staged shows including The History Boys. The plan is to make 12 episodes, 10 of which will be monologues filmed for the original series and two new stories Bennett sent Hytner last year.
Auditions and rehearsals have taken place over Zoom but the series will be filmed on ready-made sets at Elstree Studios, with a slimline cast and crew observing the UK’s strict social distancing measures. Production is set to begin on Tuesday, with filming taking place over two weeks. Hytner is directing three episodes.
Kristin Scott Thomas, Maxine Peake and Sarah Lancashire are also among the cast, with Hytner telling The Times newspaper that all the actors agreed to taking on the 40-minute monologues within 24 hours of being approached.
Bennett said: “In such difficult circumstances, that the BBC should choose to remount both series of Talking Heads, and produce two entirely new ones, is a comfort and a huge compliment. I hope a new generation of actors will get and give as much pleasure as we did 20 and 30 years ago.”
Hytner said the series represents the best of the British TV and film industries. “Everyone involved has been working in an unprecedented way, rigorously observing social distancing, entirely rethinking ways of filmmaking that until a few weeks ago seemed routine,” he said. “The shoot will never bring any of us within touching distance of each other, but I hope that in every other way it will reach out and touch millions of viewers.”
BBC drama controller Piers Wenger added: “Covid-19 has laid waste to drama production in the UK, but it has also posed a challenge: how do we adhere to restrictions while still offering British viewers the chance to lose themselves in great stories at this time of national need? Full of insight, wit, daring and compassion, these are stories of individual lives – but of great resonance.”
Talking Heads is produced by Hytner and Kevin Loader for London Theatre Company, and co-produced by Steve Clark Hall. Executive producers are Nick Starr and Anthony Jones for London Theatre Company, and Wenger for the BBC. BBC Studios is providing studio space.
The BBC said the series will air on BBC One in the “coming months.”
The episodes and their original performers:
A Chip in the Sugar
Martin Freeman (originally starred Alan Bennett in 1988)
A Lady of Letters
Imelda Staunton (originally starred Patricia Routledge in 1988)
Bed Among the Lentils
Lesley Manville (originally starred Maggie Smith 1988)
Harriet Walter (originally starred Stephanie Cole in 1988)
Her Big Chance
Jodie Comer (originally starred Julie Walters in 1988)
Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet
Maxine Peake (originally starred Patricia Routledge in 1998)
The Hand of God
Kristin Scott Thomas (originally starred Eileen Atkins in 1998)
Lucian Msamati (originally starred David Haig in 1998)
The Outside Dog
Rochenda Sandall (originally starred Julie Walters in 1998)
Nights in the Garden of Spain
Tamsin Greig (originally starred Penelope Wilton in 1998)
The Shrine (new)
An Ordinary Woman (new)