The Sixth Commandment screenwriter Sarah Phelps has revealed that a "strange feeling" accompanies her nomination at this year's BAFTA Craft Awards for her work on the BBC's heart-wrenching true crime drama.


The four-part series chronicled how Ben Field (Éanna Hardwicke) infiltrated the lives of vulnerable older people Peter Farquhar (Timothy Spall) and Ann Moore-Martin (Anne Reid) under the pretence of romance.

The tragic true story unfolded between 2014 and 2019, with the dramatisation – written by Phelps (A Very British Scandal) and directed by Saul Dibb (The Salisbury Poisonings) – airing on BBC One and iPlayer last summer.

Phelps is nominated in the Writer: Drama category at Sunday's BAFTA Television Craft Awards in London, which celebrate the best off-screen talent behind programmes that aired in 2023.

Speaking to ahead of the ceremony, she revealed that the show's enormous popularity came as a surprise to her, but acknowledged the difficulty of enjoying its success while remembering the real "pain" that inspired it.

More like this

"I didn't imagine it would be such a talking point," explained Phelps. "I always hoped it would get people in the heart – and it really got a lot of people in the heart, so that's fantastic.

"But there is also… it's a strange feeling that this is a true story about a terrible, terrible crime. And there's the ruthless cruelty and malice that was brought to Peter and Ann’s lives. And it feels quite a weird thing to be going 'and here's a shiny thing!'."

She continued: "So, for me, it's a huge acknowledgement and I'm really proud of it, but at the same time you kind of go 'shiny things, shiny things' – and yet there was all this pain.

"But bringing that story into focus and having that focus be acknowledged with this is, I think, an achievement. Especially when you think that true crime is very noisy, very popular at the moment.

"And I did think that The Sixth commandment brought a slightly different angle to it."

Ann sat upright in bed while Ben, who is sat on her bed, hands her a framed photograph of himself
Éanna Hardwicke and Anne Reid star in The Sixth Commandment. Wild Mercury/Amanda Searle

Phelps went on to detail how exactly her powerful drama differed from less esteemed entries in the true crime genre, which has been scrutinised extensively in recent years in conversations about tastefulness and responsibility.

"It wasn't titillation – and I never wanted it to be titillation or prurient," she added. "It was a story that came from the heart and people were telling each other to watch from the heart – that it had touched them where I hoped it would.

"So that was kind of mind-blowing and thrilling for me, it made me really proud and happy."

The Sixth Commandment is also nominated for Photography & Lighting: Fiction (for Rik Zang), while stars Spall, Reid and Hardwicke are in contention at the separate BAFTA Television Awards in May, where the show will compete in Limited Drama too.

The Sixth Commandment is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. The BAFTA Television Craft Awards 2024 take place on Sunday 28th April at The Brewery in London.


Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.