Not only the public, but BAFTA voters and juries are firmly embracing the trend to crime and other true stories across the various drama categories.
While it is very rewarding, after some 21 years, to be back among the BAFTA honourees, I am always conscious that when I focus on real crimes, with real victims, I must strive to tread sensitively and responsibly.
Can I help people understand why a terrible crime was committed? What can we learn?
While I have worked in this genre (among others) for decades, I can’t remember a more exciting time in which audiences have so enthusiastically embraced this format – just look at this awards season’s lists. Perhaps it is a reaction to the fake news phenomena and deep fears generated by the world we currently find ourselves in? People want to try to make sense of an often disturbing reality. By bringing these stories to life with talented actors, the genre reaches far more people than most documentaries ever will. And I say that as someone who remains a documentarian too!
I believe the key to success in this genre is a good narrative, driven by protagonists who really travel through what Hollywood script executives call a “story arc”. So, in my ITV drama “The Secret”, the character of Colin Howell goes from pillar of the community to double murderer and, after two decades of getting away with the crime, decides to confront that past. This is what surely drew James Nesbitt to the part when I approached him, and his commitment helped get the project greenlit. His wonderful performance, and others in the strong cast including Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel Buchanan/Stewart and Jason Watkins as Pastor Hanford were, I think, inspired by the deep drama inherent in the material and the sources I had access to as writer, especially Deric Henderson’s fine book.
Everyone has the right to protest or criticise when a drama depicts painful crimes, even if dramatised in a responsible and ethical way and having consulted victims’ families as we did on The Secret. But the idea that one should refrain from depicting such events, even after 5 years, strikes me as an unfair impingement on creative freedom, often voiced by people with an agenda that is hostile to such freedoms. By the same token, seminal works such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (the book and the film) would never have been made! By examining the motives and consequences of crime, society can draw lessons.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog and site are purely those of Stuart Urban in his personal capacity, and do not carry the endorsement or approval of any other individual or organisation.