Now actor Joseph Millson, who played Major Robert Ross in the BBC2 drama, has said he thinks he knows why – and it could be to do with Poldark.
“I sometimes wonder if there were just too many redcoats, because Poldark came out at the same time,” he tells RadioTimes.com. “And I almost feel sometimes – and I love Poldark and all respect to it – but if Poldark had been BBC2 and Banished had been BBC1, we might still be going.”
He has a point. Jimmy McGovern’s Banished launched on BBC2 on 5th March 2015, while Poldark came just days later to BBC1, on 8th March 2015. Both dramas were set in the late 1700s and aesthetically, there were similarities.
“And they were both called Ross!” laughs Millson. “My character was called Ross and so was he. It was the battle of the Rosses…and I lost!”
Saying that he was “heartbroken” at the decision to axe the drama after only seven episodes, Millson adds: “Banished was really upsetting because I think the viewing figures by the end were as good as BBC2 gets. Except for Wolf Hall, they were pretty stunning.”
“The press watched the first episode, which was Jimmy McGovern trying to do something slightly different, and went ‘This isn’t Jimmy McGovern’,” continues Millson. “If they’d kept watching, in seven hours of television by the last episode, he packed more Jimmy McGovern punch into that show than has been in almost any other.
“The first episode had lots of sunlight and beaches and people falling in love, and people thought ‘what’s going on here?’ – but it has an incredible fan base. People still watched it weekly. So I’m very proud of it and it’s definitely the best part I’ve ever played on television.
“This keeps happening to me,” adds Joseph. “I’m in these great shows that people still love like Campus on Channel 4 and Banished. Even back on ITV I was in a show called Talk to Me – me and Max Beasley and Laura Fraser – we were like ‘this is the bees knees and people seem to love it’. So I’m hoping it’s not me! I have been in some things that have run like The Last Kingdom.”
After two series of The Last Kingdom, both the cast and fans of the show are now waiting on news of a third season.
“I thought there might be [news] by now,” said Joseph. “We wait with bated breath. But at least it made it to two – which is better than my usual!”
Although another filming job led him to believe a recommission was just around the corner:
“I was filming a few weeks ago and someone in the make-up department said: ‘Are you in Last Kingdom? I think I’m doing that next year – we’ve been called to see if we’re available’. So we will be the last to know!”
Asked if he would want to be back to reprise his role of Ælfric in the historical drama, he replied: “Oh gosh, yeah. Abso-bloody-lutely.
“And it’s funny because I read a few of the books and my character is in several of them so I don’t really know where they’re up to. He certainly hasn’t died yet so I’m hoping he’ll come back at least for a final, big reckoning.”
For now, Joseph is busy in the West End taking on new Jamie Lloyd production Apologia. Starring Freema Agyeman, Laura Carmichael and Stockard Channing, the play explores the relationship between a mother and her two sons. And ambitiously, Joseph plays both sons – Peter and Simon.
“It says in the script: ‘Peter leaves, Simon enters’. There’s no bit in between,” he explains. “I have one of the quickest changes in the history of theatre. So no time to go off and do method acting and get into character. We just have to play the objective of each scene, play each colour of the scene for what it is and stay in the moment and not worry about that.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” he adds. “I love everyone in the company, Jamie Lloyd’s an amazing director and I think Alexi Kaye Campbell is one of our greatest living playwrights – and I don’t say that lightly. So I’m having fun and I’m playing these two parts which is a real joy. They’re brothers, who aren’t twins, and I get to play two sides of one coin.”
Apologia starts on the 29th July at Trafalgar Studios. Tickets can be bought from atgtickets.com