In his first lead role on British television, Oscar winner Christopher Walken has been tapped to star in The Offenders (working title), a six-part series for BBC and Amazon Prime Video, from The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant and Mayans M.C. co-creator Elgin James. He is one of seven leads in the project, starring alongside Merchant, Rhianne Barreto (Honour, Hanna), Gamba Cole (Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle, Hanna), Darren Boyd (Killing Eve, Lucky Man), Clare Perkins (EastEnders) and Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark, The War of the Worlds).
The series had just started filming in March when production was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Filming recently resumed in Bristol, UK, with Walken making his debut.
Described as crime thriller-meets-state-of-the-nation commentary, The Offenders hails from Mum producer Big Talk, part of ITV Studios, and Merchant’s Four Eyes. It is the latest co-production between Amazon Studios and the BBC, which have previously partnered on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning Fleabag and Steve McQueen’s drama Small Axe.
Created by Merchant, who also directs, and James, the series follows seven strangers, The Offenders, from different walks of life (Walker, Merchant, Barreto, Cole, Boyd, Perkins, Tomlinson) forced together to complete a Community Payback sentence in Bristol. As they become involved in each other’s lives, they also become involved with a dangerous criminal gang. At first, the Offenders seem like archetypes easy to pigeonhole, but gradually we see behind their façades, understand their hidden depths and what made them the people they are today. We are reminded that no one is all good or all bad. Everyone has a story.
Walken plays Frank, an inveterate scoundrel trying to reconnect with his family. Merchant plays Greg, a lonely lawyer coping with divorce, work-place bullying and scary men with knives. Barreto is Rani, a gifted but rebellious math student who has been hot-housed from a young age by her loving but controlling parents. Cole portrays Christian, a young man struggling to raise his kid sister while staying one step ahead of the Brook Hill Crew, a notorious Bristol crime gang. Boyd plays John, a businessman and law-abiding pillar of the community furious at being labeled a criminal. Perkins plays Myrna, an aging activist and campaigner who has lost none of her youthful radicalism. Tomlinson portrays Gabby, an aristocratic celebutante whose glamour and life of leisure masks deep-rooted problems.
Additional cast include: Jessica Gunning (Back, Pride) as Diana; the Offenders’ Community Service Supervisor, who supervises with what she deludedly believes is an iron first, Dolly Wells (Dracula, Doll & Em) as Frank’s daughter, Margaret, Ian McElhinney (Game of Thrones, Derry Girls) as John’s father, John Snr, Nina Wadia (Goodness Gracious Me, Bend it like Beckham) as Rani’s mother, Shanthi, Aiyana Goodfellow as Esme and Charles Babalola as Malaki.
“Like so many other productions, we’d just begun filming when Covid-19 struck and we had to shut down,” said Merchant. “I’m delighted that we’re now finally able to resume filming with this incredible cast and finish this long-standing passion project. This is the first series I’ve made in my hometown of Bristol and I’m so excited to showcase the city and utilize the amazing local talent.”
As filming is taking place during a new wave of the pandemic, additional safety protocols, including rigorous testing, are being implemented by Big Talk and Four Eyes, working closely with the BBC and Amazon Studios, in accordance with current government guidelines.
The Offenders, a co-production between BBC One and Amazon Studios, was commissioned by BBC Comedy and BBC One. The series will premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. BBC Studios is handling global distribution and brokered the deal with Amazon Studios.
Merchant executive produces for Four Eyes, Luke Alkin Kenton Allen and Matthew Justice for Big Talk, and Kate Daughton is the Commissioning Editor for the BBC. Directors are Merchant and John Butler. Producer is Nickie Sault.
Walken also is a lead, alongside Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, Tramell Tillman, Jen Tullock, Zach Cherry, Britt Lower and John Turturro in Severance, Apple’s upcoming workplace thriller drama directed by and executive produced by Ben Stiller. He can currently be seen starring alongside Jamie Dornan, Emily Blunt and Jon Hamm in John Patrick Shanley’s feature Wild Mountain Thyme.