Ordinary Lies writer Danny Brocklehurst: “I wanted to do a show where nobody dies”

The man behind the compelling BBC1 drama talks to Kasia Delgado about why he wanted to pen a script without murders and where he'd take the characters next...

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No spoilers! We’ll publish the second half of this interview, in which Brocklehurst dissects tonight’s moving finale, afterwards at 10pm. You can read it here.

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The final episode of Ordinary Lies was one of the most unbearably tense, yet subtle, dramas I’ve seen in a long time. For five weeks, many viewers have said how gripping, painful and entertaining the series has been, and episode six is no exception. The last instalment centres around Jo Joyner’s character Beth, whose storyline had been gathering pace throughout the series. After months and months of having absolutely no idea where her husband Dave (Shaun Dooley) had disappeared to, or even if he’s alive, he comes back into her life. Yet Beth has tried to move on, and her relationship with Mike (Max Beesley) is happy, even blissful. 

We’d all suspected that Dave would return, because things were starting to go too well for Beth, and Shaun Dooley would have been too talented an actor to waste on an absent character. Yet when it actually happens, Beth’s reunion with her long-lost husband, now a stranger, is seriously powerful stuff. 

So RadioTimes.com spoke to the show’s Bafta-winning screenwriter, Danny Brocklehurst, to get some answers to our burning questions about the final episode, and secrets from behind the scenes of Ordinary Lies…

If there were to be second series, would that story continue or would there be a whole new cast?

Well firstly, there’d better be a second series! From the figures I’ve seen, I think we deserve one, and the reaction from the public’s been amazing. But first they [the BBC] sort of get you to develop an idea of where the second series would go, so at the moment the idea is that we would continue telling a story that heavily involves Mike and Beth, and would keep some of the regulars from the series.

But we’d want to inject some new characters in it to give you somewhere to go with new stories and secrets. Some of the people who’ve been in the background could come to the fore. Fat Jase could get his own story, for example. If you’ve got actors like Max [Beesley] and Jo [Joyner] and Sally [Lindsay] you want to give them good stuff to do, but you also need to bring some new life into it.

You tackled some major issues from unusual angles, like Jase’s domestic abuse being perpetrated by a woman, and the missing person who returns and he’s not entirely wanted. You don’t often see that on TV— it’s usually a man being abusive, and then a missing person returning to open arms.  Have you always wanted to show all types of human struggle?

Oh God, yeah. Without sounding too silly about it, I try to take the difficult subjects and make them understandable. I mean, the episode in which Rick [Shazad Latif] had a fling, or whatever you want to call it, with an underage girl massively divided people. Some people were just outraged with me. And then other people can completely understand how it’s happened. Others said ‘”this sort of thing has happened to me” or “I know someone who it’s happened to.”

Those kind of episodes are perversely quite satisfying. You know you’re dividing and challenging people. I think that’s what drama has kind of got a duty to do, not every week, but from time to time. And also, the first episode where Marty pretends his wife is dead; People didn’t know whether to laugh, whether it was funny or sick. I quite like those episodes because you’re trying to do something different, and gets it talked about, which is no bad thing. A lot of TV can come across as samey and quite bland.

How did you come to the idea of writing a drama of interwoven, yet separate, stories? 

It’s quite difficult to pull off actually, because what you find as you go through the series is that you’re dragging quite a lot of baggage with you. For example the Michelle Keegan episode [in which receptionist Tracy gets caught up in drug trafficking on a girls’ holiday], I sort of wish we’d had a bit more space to deal with the consequences of that in subsequent episodes.  So you’re forever trying to give a big brand new story but also set things up for future episodes and trying to bring things in from previous episodes. It’s a balancing act, and whether we got it right or wrong, I don’t know. Maybe it’s something we could perfect if we go again, but the ambition was always to tell a load of big stories and make it as rich and full as possible.

There are so many period and crime dramas on at the moment, do you think this was a particularly important time to write something about ordinary people now?

I am no lover of period drama, I just think there’s too much of it on TV and quite a lot of it I find is just escapism — and there’s nothing wrong with escapism but it’s not for me. I would never write that kind of stuff. So there’s that, but in terms of crime, I completely understand why crime dominates the schedules, and I’ve just written a crime show for Sky. And there is crime in Ordinary Lies too.

But when I went into speak to Charlotte Moore [controller of BBC1] about this show, I basically pitched that nobody would die in six hours of television, because I wanted to write a show that, though it’s dramatic, would be about people’s lives, work, their family, love lives. My ambition was to try and get the drama from the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people, because most of us are not involved in murders.

I know people have said the lies in this series aren’t ordinary, but that was always was the point! These are the almost unbelievable moments in normal people’s lives. I just felt that at least one show could slightly redress the balance there and not be about crime, murder and death. I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve done that.

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Ordinary Lies concludes tonight on BBC1 at 9pm. Read what Danny Brocklehurst had to say about tonight’s heart-wrenching episode afterwards here.