Doctor Foster writer Mike Bartlett reveals how David Attenborough inspired his new drama Life

The natural historian and documentary maker influenced Bartlett's new BBC drama - but how?

Life BBC One

He gave us Doctor Foster, and now writer Mike Bartlett is bringing new drama Life to the BBC.


The series – which is set in the same universe as the previous series and features some of the same Doctor Foster characters in Life – focuses on a house in Manchester divided into four flats with four interweaving stories about love, parenthood, loss and self-discovery.

Bartlett says the very title was inspired by historian and documentary maker David Attenborough – whose new film David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is set to be released on Netflix this month.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the six-part drama, he said: “It’s called Life because I wanted it to suggest one of those huge Attenborough nature documentaries. That in the same way, by looking at the intimate lives of individual creatures, we learn something about the larger species. Exploring something epic through the tiniest detail.”

He continued: “I wanted to write about isolation and its opposite – community. About how we crave being connected to other people but at the same time often end up feeling lonely, or disconnected. I used to live in a flat that was part of a divided up old house. You could hear intimate details of your neighbours’ lives, but when we passed in the corridor we barely exchanged two words.

“I was fascinated in that apparent contradiction. Also, quite simply, I wanted to write about how amazing people could be, when faced with the difficulties and tragedies of life. In every household in the country there are some of the biggest stories occurring, every day.”

Fans will recognise some of the Life cast from Doctor Foster, particularly actress Victoria Hamilton who played Anna Baker in the series.

Victoria Hamilton plays Belle in Life
Victoria Hamilton plays Belle in Life

Her story will be continued in Life, where she’ll star as Belle. whose ordered life is thrown into disarray by the hospitalisation of sister Ruth (played by Susannah Fielding).

So, exactly why did Bartlett decide to keep her story going in the new drama?

“Two reasons. When I was writing some of her final scenes in Doctor Foster, the character surprised me when she said she was moving completely away to a new city. Starting again. That felt like a story full of potential and one I hadn’t necessarily seen – a woman in her mid-forties, married for a lot of her adult life but now divorced, and keen to start again. I also found Belle’s voice came very easily when writing, and that’s a good sign there’s lots of fun to be had with the character,” Bartlett explained.

“Secondly I wanted to work more with Victoria Hamilton. She’s one of the finest stage actors there has ever been, and I wanted to write a leading role on screen for her to get her teeth into.”


Life will air from Tuesday 29th September at 9pm on BBC One. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide, or take a look at our new TV shows 2020 page to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.