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PERSPECTIVE

Dramatic truth

By Paula Cuddy 07-09-2017

Fact: all drama takes some inspiration from the real world. The writer/creator may be inspired by someone they know directly or indirectly, an anecdote, something that has happened to them or someone else, news, non-fiction books or memoirs.

Advice is taken from specialists who act as consultants across the development/production of a drama in a bid to make the world, the characters and the dramatic events feel authentic and credible.

The best precinct dramas are often devised by those with first-hand experience. Medic-turned-writer Jed Mercurio created and wrote standout medical dramas Cardiac Arrest and Bodies. Hit CBS legal show The Good Wife had a writing team of self-proclaimed news junkies who looked for news they could make into plots, and had ex-lawyers scripting the drama. US showrunner David Simon previously worked as a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun and went on to create the Baltimore-set HBO crime drama The Wire, alongside former police detective Ed Burns.

Three Girls told the true story of sexual abuse in Rochdale

The exceptional recent factual drama Three Girls (BBC1), based on accounts of victims of the 2012 grooming and sexual abuse case in Rochdale, UK, was harrowing, shocking and heart-breaking to watch but potent in its veracity. I was left weeping but thankful for real people such as health worker Sara Rowbotham (Maxine Peake) and police detective Maggie Oliver (Lesley Sharpe). Thankful, too, that the voices of these children were being properly represented and that this drama deftly destroyed the idea that the victims had made a lifestyle choice.

The fictional world can be a great arena to pose questions about the real world, while delivering edge-of-your-seat, character-driven and nail-biting drama. Cracker, the stellar 1990s crime drama created by Jimmy McGovern and starring Robbie Coltrane as a brilliantly charismatic but flawed criminal psychologist, tapped into the state of the nation. Broken, McGovern’s new BBC drama starring Sean Bean and Anna Friel, is compelling and emotionally complex while tackling the unjust realities of modern Britain. A drama for our times.

Institutions we all know about (or think we do) are often placed under the microscope. In Line of Duty (BBC), Mercurio shines a light on policing. On seeing the real-life Jimmy Savile placed in a photograph alongside fictional characters in Line of Duty’s third season, I doubt I was alone in feeling uncomfortable. I applaud the show and the BBC for doing this. Lest we forget how sometimes real-life individuals and organisations can collude and cover up. In the context of this social-realistic drama series, this moment felt earned.

It could be the act of an affair that attracts an audience. To creatively run with that act, as in The Affair (Showtime), and dramatise different points of view (with a murder to be solved in the mix), tapping into the zeitgeist and prompting a conversation on how exchanges between men and women are subject to interpretation, makes a must-see drama.

Sally Wainwright, the writer and creator of two of the most popular and justly acclaimed recent BBC dramas, Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax, is reported as saying she doesn’t set out to instruct people but wants to entertain. For me, she certainly delivers entertaining drama from a truthful place.

I want to be entertained, but I like the drama I watch to keep it real.

The new series of Safe House, starring Stephen Moyer and produced by Eleventh Hour Films, begins on ITV this evening.

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today's correspondent

Paula Cuddy Creative director Eleventh Hour Films

Paula Cuddy joined Eleventh Hour Films after working for Left Bank Pictures, Hat Trick Productions and in the script department of EastEnders. Her credits include developing and script editing the action series Strike Back, series script editing Jed Mercurio's medical drama Bodies and researching/script editing dramas by Tony Marchant and Bryan Elsley.

Paula originated and developed the returnable event drama Safe House for ITV. Current developments include an adaptation of The Verdict by Nick Stone.