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Is The Sister based on a true story? Intriguing inspiration behind ITV drama

The Sister was inspired by a murderous dream – and a haunting.

The Sister
Published: Tuesday, 27th October 2020 at 9:58 pm

The past – whatever it is – seems about to catch up with Nathan (Flesh and Blood actor Russell Tovey) in ITV's The Sister, as he appeared to lose control of his web of lies and his real identity was exposed to wife Holly (Amrita Acharia).


The first episode ended with a jump scare, seeming to suggest Nathan is haunted by his wife's late sister, Elise, whose disappearance a decade earlier remains a mystery to everyone except two men: Nathan, and a creepy acquaintance, Bob (played by Bertie Carvel in The Sister cast).

While the series is inspired by a book, viewers have been intrigued about the origins of The Sister – and whether or not it was inspired by a real-life supernatural sighting or ghost story.

Here's everything you need to know about the inspiration behind The Sister.

Is The Sister based on a true story?

The four-part series The Sister is based on Luther creator Neil Cross' book Burial, which in turn was inspired by a nightmare The Sister writer Cross had in 1985 about murdering a homeless man.

He said: “I wanna say even now I hope I dreamt it. I’m pretty sure [it was a dream] – I was very young, 16 or 17, and I was out of my head on rough cider in Bristol – we used to drink rough cider in gallon containers, because it was 32 pence per pint.

And I was making my way back to my sister’s house, and there was a short cut… through the woods, through these concrete steps through the woods. And I just woke up the next morning not with any sense that I’d had a dream, of any description, I woke up with a very, very clear memory of coming across a homeless man asleep on the steps who I randomly stabbed to death. But I didn’t do it [the murder], if anyone’s wondering.”

The Sister
Bob in ITV's The Sister ITV

Speaking to and other press about the real-life inspiration behind the book, Cross also revealed that he himself had experienced a "haunting," in addition to a haunted house.

“In the spirit of the duality of the show, I’m a rationalist, I’m a materialist. I don’t believe in life after death, and at the same time I’ve absolutely experienced a haunting,” he said. “I can’t begin to explain what happened. I know what I don’t believe, but I also know what happened. And it’s quite a detailed story and I can’t go into it, but yeah I’ve experienced not just one thing but a haunted house.”

This could explain why haunted dwellings (specifically Holly and Nathan's house) feature so prominently in the series The Sister.

Cross' book Burial also appears to present a darker version of Nathan than the TV series itself does – in a 2009 book review (via The Independent), Burial is described as including "sordid group sex," in addition to more details about Nathan's past relationships.


You can order Neil Cross’ Burial from Amazon. The Sister continues tonight at 9pm on TV, finishing on Thursday 29th October 2020. 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.


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