Suranne Jones, Oona Chaplin and Hermione Norris cast in First World War drama The Ark

Kevin Doyle, Kerry Fox and Marianne Oldham also star in the new BBC series set in a field hospital on the coast of France

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Next year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War and spearheading BBC’s programming is six-part series The Ark, which has attracted a starry selection of new cast members. 

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Game of Thrones and The Hour actress Oona Chaplin will star alongside Suranne Jones (Scott and Bailey) and Hermione Norris (Spooks) in the new drama, set in a tented field hospital on the coast of France. The ensemble cast, which also includes Downton Abbey’s Kevin Doyle, Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave) and Marianne Oldham (WPC 56) will portray a team of doctors, nurses and female volunteers working together to heal the wounded and traumatised soldiers sent their way from the trenches. 

Chaplin will play Kitty Trevelyan, a sharp-tongued volunteer nurse arriving in France after escaping a traumatic past, with the ability to both bewitch and antagonise those around her. She is joined on arrival by young, enthusiastic Flora Marshall (Alice St Clair) and Rosalie Berwick (Oldham), whose new job presents a fresh challenge after her failure to become a wife or mother. 

Speaking of her new role, Chaplin said, “‘The War To End All Wars’: Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Although the technology of war may be different, the people have hardly changed, which Sarah Phelps has captured here so beautifully. In The Ark we follow men and women on their journey of survival, their struggle with meaning and love, and the small victories that means so much. In this ensemble of colourful characters, Kitty is cut-throat, intelligent, tormented and wild.”

Suranne Jones portrays new nurse Joan Livesey whose disarming and spirited demeanour hides a dark secret. “This is my first period drama and I am so excited at the prospect of filming a First World War series set on a frontline hospital,” she said. “It’s an important period in history not just because of the war but because it was a transitional period for women, liberated in some respect but still shackled by the conventions and hierarchies of the past.

“[Creator and lead writer] Sarah Phelps really gets to the heart of a story and gives very strong images and weight to her characters. For my role as Joan she has created a nurse with a very independent and modern outlook who is much more interested in her patients than protocol.”

Doyle plays Lt Col Brett who, along with formidable Matron Grace Carter (Norris), leads the hospital staff with the assistance of enigmatic Sister Quayle (Fox) and two surgeons – Captains Miles Hesketh-Thorne (Alex Wyndham) and Thomas Gillan (Richard Rankin). Miles, the latest in a long line of medics, is working to fulfil his destiny as an army surgeon. Meanwhile, working class boy Thomas has fought his way up the ranks to become a brilliant doctor. The pair begin the drama as great friends and colleagues but that bond is tested when they both fall for the same woman… 

Directed by David Evans (Downton Abbey, Fever Pitch), each of the six episodes sees the team caring for a fresh batch of new arrivals made up of British soldiers, troops from all over the world, local civilians and even enemy fighters wounded on the other side of no man’s land. 

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Executive produced and written by Sarah Phelps who is “bouncing off the walls with excitement”, the drama begins filming in August 2013 and will also star Jack Gordon (Captain America: The First Avenger) as Orderly Corporal Peter Foley and Jeremy Swift as Quartermaster Sergeant Reggie Soper.