Tom Stoppard reteams with Shakespeare In Love producer David Parfitt for the BBC-HBO mini-series Parade’s End, which shot in the UK and Belgium.

New BBC-HBO five-part miniseries Parade’s End marks the return of screenwriter and playwright Tom Stoppard, whose last film or TV project was 2001’s Enigma.

The $19.7m (£12.5m) high-end offering, currently in post-production, is based on the quartet of novels by UK writer Ford Madox Ford about an English aristocrat, his wife and a young suffragette before and during the First World War. The cast features Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens.

“I would argue that Tom is just about the most consistently brilliant screenwriter/playwright alive, and the fact he was willing to commit meant it was very easy for everyone else to,” says Damien Timmer, joint managing director of UK television production company Mammoth Screen. He came up with the idea to turn the novels into a television series, taking the project to the BBC, which agreed to commission it. BBC Worldwide will distribute Parade’s End outside the US.

HBO, which had worked with the BBC on projects including Rome and Five Days, also spotted the potential, picking up the project for the US in early 2010. “We both support each other’s vision and sensibility which is about authorship both in direction and writing,” says the BBC’s controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson, who will be partnering with HBO on two more upcoming projects, spy drama Nemesis and The Girl, about Alfred Hitchcock’s relationship with Tippi Hedren starring Sienna Miller and Toby Jones.

‘It is a bit of a golden age. The talent you can attract to work in television is better than ever’

Damien Timmer, Mammoth Screen

Oscar-winning film producer David Parfitt — who worked with Stoppard on Shakespeare In Love — and Bafta-winning TV producer Selwyn Roberts were brought on as series producers. The project is Parfitt’s first TV producing job. “Apart from trying to shoot a little bit more each day, there is remarkably little difference [from a film shoot] at this scale. It was so big and complex with 100 different locations and 101 speaking cast over five hours,” he explains.

Parade’s End is proof A-list actors and directors are increasingly happy to move between film and television. Cumberbatch came from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse, Hall from The Awakening, while director Susannah White chose to return to TV having directed Nanny McPhee And The Big Bang. Not to mention the supporting cast which includes Roger Allam, Stephen Graham and Rupert Everett, who all have successful film careers.

“It is a bit of a golden age. TV is getting more ambitious and the talent you can attract to work in television is better than ever,” says Timmer, who is also working on a PG Wodehouse comedy series for the BBC, and a two-part Seville-set thriller based around the Falcon detective series for Sky Atlantic.

Belgian break

The team looked at shooting Parade’s End in Northern Ireland and Canada before settling on the UK and Belgium, which suited the story creatively — it is set in Edwardian England before moving to Europe during the First World War — and financially, thanks to the Belgian government’s tax shelter scheme.

Parade’s End is the first UK television shoot to take advantage of the rebate. “When you go somewhere only used to day-to-day TV and you throw an almost Hollywood-sized production at them, there was some fast learning to be done, but we came out friends, and with some great footage,” says Parfitt.

“It is easy to get around, people can hop on the Eurostar train from London and you can attract crews from around Europe,” adds James Penny, Mammoth’s commercial director. Penny and Ivan MacTaggart, who works with Parfitt at Trademark Films, negotiated the Belgium deal with BNP Paribas’ Fortis Film Fund. Post-production is also taking place in Belgium at Galaxy.

Due to air on BBC 2 in the UK later this year, the project is part of the BBC’s renewed investment in high-end, authored drama such as The Hour (which is about to start shooting its second series), Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing On The Edge and First World War drama Birdsong.

“People are attracted to television that feels like you absolutely can’t miss it, that is epic in emotional scale. But what’s interesting is not just the huge audiences we’re getting, but the fact people are watching them live. People still want that shared experience,” says Stephenson.