Stephen Mangan is to play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a new ITV Encore drama about the writer’s strained friendship with escapologist Harry Houdini.
Mangan’s casting follows the recent depiction of the Sherlock Holmes creator in the ITV drama Arthur & George, in which Martin Clunes played Conan Doyle investigating a real-life crime.
In the new ten-part series, House and Six Feet Under star Michael Weston will play Houdini – a role most recently taken on by Adrien Brody in a two-part mini series broadcast on Channel 4.
Houdini & Doyle will dramatise the real-life relationship between the two men which reached breaking point in relation to their differing beliefs regarding the supernatural.
Houdini, who became the world’s highest-paid performer, always refused to believe in the paranormal and went to great lengths to expose what he regarded to be the fraudulence of psychics and mediums. He occasionally took to attending séances disguised in a false beard and hat and revealing himself at the last minute, fervently convinced that everything unexplained is a trick, a gimmick, or a fraud.
This contrasts with Conan Doyle, who passionately believed in the supernatural – partly, it is often suggested, to help him cope with the death of his eldest son Kingsley in the First World War. He was also convinced that Houdini was able to communicate with the dead without being aware of it.
“Applesauce” and “hogwash” Houdini commented in private, of his friend’s beliefs.
ITV Encore said in a statement: “This fundamental difference between the two men leads to conflict… and humour… and competition. High-minded competition in the pursuit of the truth and ridiculous petty competition because they’re… guys. But despite all this, they need each other. Doyle needs Houdini because he is gullible. Houdini needs Doyle because he is wrong.”
The drama will also draw on what the production team claim to be historically documented instances of the Metropolitan Police turning to Houdini and Doyle to help tackle “unsolved and inexplicable crimes”.
Joining the cast is Canadian actress Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton, whose character in the series is the first female PC ever to work for the Met. Blackadder star Tim McInnerny will play Inspector Horace Merring, a fast rising star in the police force.
The international co-production, which will premiere in the UK in 2016 on ITV Encore, is executive produced by House creator David Shore, and written and created by his long-time collaborator David Hoselton, and Canadian screenwriter David Titcher.
Shore said: “I’ve long been intrigued by both Houdini & Doyle – men who were ahead of their time, each fascinating in their own right. But the idea that these two, seemingly so different, could have been friends is almost too perfect. In Michael and Stephen, we have found two incredible actors that embody the intelligence, humour and mystique of these men, who even when viewed through the lens of history, are larger than life.”