Are you ready for a feast of drama this autumn? The writers and creators of the 20 best shows whet your appetite…
“Bodyguard came out of conversations with the BBC going back several years. When Line of Duty started on BBC2, there was a feeling that it couldn’t ever become a big show because the BBC2 drama budget is much smaller and a returning cop series would take away from the Stephen Poliakoff/David Hare stuff that they love to commission. So Bodyguard was going to be my big BBC1 thriller, and actually got greenlit before Line of Duty moved to BBC1.
“The relationship between the protector and the protected is more complicated in this [than in the 1992 film The Bodyguard]. As it goes on, you’re never quite sure what they think of each other.”
“Because Keeley [Hawes] was in Line of Duty and now Bodyguard, the only rule I have is that the shows exist in different dramatic universes. AC-12 couldn’t turn up halfway through Bodyguard because they’d have to say: ‘That’s not the Home Secretary, it’s Lindsay Denton.’ But there’s no reason why Richard [Madden, who plays the eponymous bodyguard] couldn’t appear in Line of Duty in a different role.”
Bodyguard airs in August on BBC1
2. Vanity Fair
“Vanity Fair is a big, lavish, funny costume drama about the rollercoaster of people’s lives going right and going wrong, with William Makepeace Thackeray [played by Michael Palin, who starred in Hughes’s 2014 BBC1 drama Remember Me], who clearly loves his characters, guiding us along.
“It’s sometimes characterised as a harsh story about Becky Sharp, a naughty social climber, constantly striving for more. But I see her as a poor orphan who needs to get on — if she doesn’t, she’ll starve.
“In lots of ways, we aren’t that different from Becky Sharp — we all want to be more beautiful, more successful and marry the right man. I didn’t set out specifically for this to resonate with modern viewers but I’m thrilled if it does seem relevant, with us showing off about our lives on social media and the obsession with celebrity culture.
“Thackeray was saying that we, as a culture, were worrying about the wrong things, but Vanity Fair wasn’t just about making a point. He put real, sad, suffering people out there for us to get to know and love.”
“Then the phone-hacking scandal started and journalistic ethics became topical. Also digital content put the print industry into a state of, if not collapse, then complete revolution. It interested me that those two things happened at the same time.
“So Press is a workplace drama with — hopefully — compelling characters [including Ben Chaplin as a paper editor, Charlotte Riley as a deputy news editor and David Suchet as the owner of a paper]. But it’s also about journalism dealing with a crisis of truth and a crisis of identity.”
Press will air in September on BBC1
4. Mother’s Day
“After I’d written Murdered for Being Different for BBC3, I was asked what I wanted to do next. I’d always wanted to write about the IRA bombings in Warrington in 1993 because I was on my way there that morning and, like the victims [Johnathan Ball, aged three, and 12-year-old Tim Parry], I was also going to buy a Mother’s Day card for the next day. But my dad and I heard about the bombs on the car radio and turned back.
“At the time I saw it from Tim’s perspective but, writing it now, I saw it from the perspective of his dad, Colin [played by Daniel Mays].
“Before starting, it was obviously important to spend time with Colin and the Parry family. They were incredibly supportive, as was the family of Susan McHugh [Vicky McClure], a Dublin woman who organised a protest against the IRA over the bombings, and is the other main character.”
Mother’s Day airs on BBC2 in September
Toni Collette and Steven Mackintosh star in a family drama exploring marriage and monogamy. The six-parter sees the TV drama debut of playwright Nick Payne, who had success in the West End and on Broadway with his play Constellations.
Emmy and Golden Globe winning Hollywood actress Collette is in the lead role as therapist Joy Richards, and while Mackintosh plays her husband Alan.
The BBC describes Joy as “a therapist trying to find a way to keep her spark with her husband alive after a cycling accident causes them to reassess their relationship,” adding: “As we meet her family, friends, neighbours and clients, remarkable yet relatable stories of love, lust and forbidden desire emerge.”
“There are two strands to Black Earth Rising: first, the emotional central premise of one woman’s search for her identity. The second is international law and its limitations in relation to African war crimes, and whether we in the West should bring justice to areas where people may never otherwise find it or if that is a tool of postcolonialism. The drama explores the opposing arguments, with Michaela Coel as the lead, Kate Ashby, at its heart guiding viewers along.
“The role fits her like a magnificent glove. We actually had real trouble casting it. We spent months searching here and in the States for an actress.
“Then I was at home watching the Baftas and I saw Michaela on the red carpet looking stunning and powerful. In my mind she was the funny girl from Chewing Gum with pigtails, but suddenly I saw she was a woman of real agency and I knew she was perfect.”
Black Earth Rising airs on BBC2 in September
7. A Discovery of Witches
“A Discovery of Witches dramatises the first book in my All Souls trilogy about a history professor who discovers an ancient manuscript that gives her access to a supernatural world of witches and vampires.
“There had been a movie possibility before, but the big attraction of TV is the space available: it’s a layered, 700- page book, with a lot of characters and details. So to have eight hours is great.
“I’ve chosen to be very involved in the production, otherwise it would feel like just leaving your babies at a station and walking away. I felt I was there to ‘advise, counsel and warn’, like the Queen. The idea is to do the other books as series two and three, but obviously that’s well above my pay grade. We’ll have to see how this one goes first!”
A Discovery of Witches airs on Sky1 and Now TV in September
The eight-part conspiracy thriller from Two Brothers Pictures (who’ve been behind The Missing, Liar and Rellik) tells the story of Professor Jonah Mulray (John Simm), who finds out his wife has been killed in a car crash while working in Hong Kong. Alhough his wife lived and worked there for six months, Jonah’s fear of flying has meant he’s never visited her in that time.
Now Jonah is forced to leave behind everything he knows to travel across the world to identify her body. However, there’s a shock waiting for him in Hong Kong – and as his wife, left him an emotional voicemail seconds before the crash, so was her death really an accident?
The eight-part series, written by new screenwriting duo Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood, will see Jonah attempt to unravel the truth of his wife’s death – and the fresh dangers he encounters along the way.
Strangers will air in September on ITV
When the grandson and heir of John Paul Getty was kidnapped in 1973, the billionaire oil tycoon refused to pay the multimillion-dollar ransom.
This true-story drama stars Donald Sutherland (left) as the head of the infamous family, Hilary Swank as his daughter-in-law and British newcomer Harris Dickinson as his grandson, and is brought to life by the team behind Slumdog Millionaire — Oscar and Bafta winners Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy.
Trust will air in September on BBC2
10. Killing Eve
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) has made her name in the US with this hit drama, recommissioned even before it had aired on BBC America. Her adaptation of Luke Jennings’s novellas, Codename Villanelle, about the hunt for a female assassin, stars Doctor Foster’s Jodie Comer
Grey’s Anatomy actress Sandra Oh stars alongside Comer. Oh plays an apathetic MI5 security officer “whose desk job does not fulfil her fantasies of being a spy”. Comer plays Villanelle, “a fearsome assassin clinging to the luxuries her violent job affords her.”
The series is set to “turn the traditional spy thriller on its head” as the two women engage in an all-consuming cat-and-mouse game.
Killing Eve airs in the UK in September on BBC1 and BBC3
11. The Little Drummer Girl
Simon Cornwell (Executive producer)
“Like The Night Manager, John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl is a huge book in every sense — 550 pages long, and full of scale and rich emotion. We first started working on the adaptation about two and a half years ago. [Simon is co-CEO of production company The Ink Factory, which he set up with his brother Stephen — they’re the sons of le Carré.] It’s one of our firm favourites among his books and ideally suited to the six-hour format.
“Although the story takes place nearly 40 years ago, it’s rich with contemporary resonance, and is told from the female protagonist’s point of view, as Charlie [played by Florence Pugh] finds her place in the world.
“Following The Night Manager was hard, as we set very high expectations for ourselves, but The Little Drummer Girl is certainly its equal, if not even ahead in terms of scale, scope and ambition. At the same time it’s very different tonally, and I hope that’s something our audiences will find fresh and intriguing.”
The Little Drummer Girl airs on BBC1 in October
12. The First
“The First is set during the early 2030s and follows a manned mission to land on Mars, led by a guy called Tom Hagerty, played by Sean Penn. I talked to Sean very early on in the project, and his involvement informed the writing. I think the fact Sean is doing it is evidence that the line between film and TV — in terms of which actors do what — has pretty much gone. A lot of the most filmic work is being done in TV now, and so actors gravitate towards that.
“My previous work has often been about politics [Willimon was the first showrunner on the American version of House of Cards], and there’s a little bit of this set in the Washington sphere, but it’s only a small focus of the show. In the series, the Mars mission has Nasa in partnership with a private company, which is the way space exploration has been going recently.
“We did a ton of research to make The First as authentic as possible. For example, we pretty much had to design our own Mars transit vehicle, as if we were really planning to go there — working with former Nasa designers and astronauts in order to create a craft that would actually work: we were even getting down to how many cubic metres of solid fuel you’d need. And, yes, we do explore the ‘David Bowie question’, but I’m not going to tell you whether there is life on Mars!”
The First airs on Channel 4 in October
“Doing a peak-time drama about a transgender child is a bold move for ITV. I’m well aware this is a subject around which there’s a lot of sensitivity, with what can be said and who has the right to say it. Some people will ask: why is a middle-aged man telling this story? But I believe that good, insightful writing can come from looking at a subject sympathetically from the outside. Equally, I couldn’t have written it without the support and contributions of Mermaids [a charity working with gender-variant and transgender children], who helped me to meet kids and their parents.
“My aim was to be sensitive but circumspect. There are too many uncertainties in this sort of situation for it to have a straightforward happy ending. In the story, the parents take different attitudes towards what their 11-year-old child Max [played by Callum Booth-Ford] wants to do. The father [Emmett J Scanlan] convinces himself it’s ‘just a phase’; the mother [Anna Friel, who starred in Marchant’s Public Enemies] has better instincts for what her son’s experiencing. It’s important to have that tension for dramatic reasons and because there is a debate within society and medicine about the transition of children.
“The recent case of Scarlett Johansson pulling out of playing a transgender role after protests that the part should go to a trans actor raised another concern. But, in our case, the advice from Mermaids was that there would have been safeguarding issues if a child going through the difficulty of transition was given the stress of playing out the process in a TV drama as well.”
Butterfly will air on ITV in late Autumn
14. The Cry
In an adaptation of Helen FitzGerald’s novel, Jenna Coleman (Victoria, Doctor Who) stars as a young Scottish mother whose baby is abducted from a small coastal town in Australia. The four-part psychological thriller also stars Ewen Leslie (Safe Harbour, Top of the Lake) as her husband and the child’s father.
According to the BBC, “[the abduction] is the catalyst for a journey into the disintegrating psychology of a young woman, exposing the myths and truths of motherhood.”
The show was adapted by Jacquelin Perske from the novel of the same name by Helen FitzGerald.
The Cry airs in late Autumn on BBC1
15. Dark Heart
“In 2016, I wrote a single drama called Dark Heart based on Adam Creed’s books about a London detective, DCI Will Wagstaffe [Tom Riley, above]. It was for ITV Encore, which doesn’t exist any more. Then there was a bit of a gap — when I was mainly writing Unforgotten. Now we’ve done six episodes for ITV, starting with the original single drama including reshot material.
“I’m aware that TV’s depiction of women victims of violence has become a big issue. Actually, a critic who was nice about the third series of Unforgotten complained that it centred on the death of a young woman. I emailed her to say that series one and two had male victims. A third of murder victims in the UK each year are women.
“In Dark Heart, the first two are male, but it would be an absurd denial of reality if we stopped having women victims on TV.”
Dark Heart will air on ITV in late autumn
This original six-part thriller focuses on Raza, a young, second-generation Pakistani man from east London (played by newcomer Nabhaan Rizwan), who is coerced into becoming an informant by Gabe, a counter-terrorism officer (Paddy Considine).
Joining them is Bel Powley, best known for starring in The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, as Gabe’s ambitious new partner Holly.
Directed by Westworld’s Jonny Campbell, and penned by new writers Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, Informer is set to be an original take on racial identity and the blurred lines between the political and personal.
Informer airs on BBC1 in late Autumn
17. No Offence
Paul Abbott’s police comedy drama returns for a third series, with Joanna Scanlan, Elaine Cassidy and Alexandra Roach reprising their roles alongside Will Mellor and Paul Ritter. They’re joined by Claire Rushbrook (Whitechapel) as sharp Supt Marilyn Merchant.
The second series saw no-nonsense cop DI Viv Deering (Scanlan) being thrust head to head against a ferocious and unpredictable matriarch and her volatile son Manni, both part of one of Manchester’s most feared crime families.
No Offence will return for a third season in September on Channel 4
18. Doctor Who
The eagerly anticipated 11th series is finally within sight. RT can confirm that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor will be on our screens by October, but little is known about the ten standalone episodes.
Showrunner Chris Chibnall, who cast Whittaker as the first female Doctor, has said that the Daleks won’t feature and there’ll be an all-new cast of monsters appearing instead.
He has also recently divulged that for the first time writers of colour have worked on Doctor Who. Overall, the new series has five guest writers — three men and two women, in addition to Chibnall — though, as yet, their identities are unknown. After all, secrecy is still the name of the game.
Doctor Who will return with Jodie Whittaker in the title role in October on BBC1
Robin Wright takes centre stage as the US President when the sixth and final series returns, without Kevin Spacey. Claire Underwood took over from her husband at the end of the last series.
A special Independence Day teaser confirmed that the the sixth and final season will focus on Claire Underwood — it’s still not yet clear, however, how the show will write Frank Underwood out of the story.
Production resumed following significant re-writes at the end of January 2018, and the new series was forced to miss its usual spring release date because of the last-minute changes.
House of Cards will air on Netflix on Friday 2nd November
The thriller based in the fictional community of Fortitude in Arctic Norway returns, with Richard Dormer once again starring as Sheriff Anderssen.
Earlier this month, RadioTimes.comexclusively revealed that the Sky Atlantic thriller set in the eponymous isolated town will return for a third and final four-part miniseries following its two previous ten-part runs.
In the aftermath of the murder of corrupt mayor Erling Munk (Ken Stott) at the hands of a mob led by Sheriff Dan Anderson, the concluding chapter will open with the arrival of two new police officers from Oslo.
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