The team behind intense new four-part TV drama Southcliffe have unveiled the first two chapters and discussed the project at BAFTA.
The story, set in a fictional English market town called Southcliffe, is about a community’s response to a random shooting spree. The story is told through shifting timeframes and with a wealth of nuanced characters with interlocking stories. Writer Tony Grisoni said: “It’s fun to try to tell a story in a nonlinear way. Also, when people are suffering any kind of tragedy, it kind of smashes time and space.”
The project originated with Warp Films producer Peter Carlton and writer Grisoni (The Red Riding Trilogy).
Producer Peter Carlton of Warp Films noted that the initial idea for the project wasn’t about a killing spree, but simply about exploring “living people’s relationship with death.” He added: “It had to be something that’s really close to home, a spree killing comes from inside the community.”
Grisoni used a research method he’d employed on Michael Winterbottom’s In This World – he used a team of three researchers to talk to real subjects about losing people close to them. “We wanted to be guided by what these people were saying,” Grisoni said.
The team did research places like Hungerford to have an idea about the logistics of a small town responding to tragedy. But Grisoni notes: “I wouldn’t pretend to know how a town deals with that and I wouldn’t pretend to know how people deal with that.”
Sean Durkin, director of Martha Marcy May Marlene, directs his first TV project and his first in the UK. The team (Carlton produces alongside Derrin Schlesinger) had only a 52-day shoot for the four-part series, which includes 90+ speaking roles.
Durkin acclimated to the town, Faversham, which stood in for the fictional Southcliffe. “It was about spending time in the area where we were shooting to see what it felt like to sit in a pub there, what it felt like to walk down the street. There was a palpable atmosphere.”
Sean Harris, who takes on the difficult role of a man marginalised in the community, said: “I come from a place like that, I knew that mentality…seeing people exhausted by life and what that does to you.”
Rory Kinnear, who plays a successful journalist who returns to his hometown of Southcliffe after the killings, said: “The first draft I read was even more brutal. My first response was, ‘God, This is kind of amazing, but who wants to watch this?’”
The good news is that plenty of people at the BAFTA screening were left eager for more. Channel 4 will air Southcliffe in August.