Sheridan Smith, Robert Glenister, Eddie Marsan and Angela Griffin star in a new drama exploring the realities of life in lockdown. Executive producer Jeff Pope reveals more...
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a marked impact on all our lives as families across the UK continue to live in isolation in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. And the realities of life in lockdown are explored in new four-part drama, Isolation Stories.
Sheridan Smith, Robert Glenister, Eddie Marsan and Angela Griffin, among others, will appear in each of the 15-minute dramas reflecting what people are going through after weeks spent in isolation.
With the production team forced to observe the strict rules of lockdown, the actors and their families have filmed the scenes themselves, with the directors watching the footage remotely to offer guidance.
The show's executive producer is Jeff Pope, 61, best known for writing acclaimed true-life dramas including A Confession and Little Boy Blue.
We chatted to Jeff – via video link from his home, of course! – to find out more about Isolation Stories…
What was the idea behind Isolation Stories?
"Well, firstly, we all suffered from Coronavirus in my family. I had it and my wife, Tina, had it really badly and was almost on the verge of having to go to A&E. Fortunately, she made a complete recovery. So my experience was very real and very frightening. But I also heard lots of little stories, too, and really wanted to make a drama that reflected what’s going on in people's lives during lockdown while they're still living it."
What decisions did you have to make when casting the actors?
"For two of our stories, we knew we had to have two generations of the same family isolating in the same house, and they both had to be actors – or certainly not be scared in front of the camera! So we got lucky with Robert Glenister and his son Tom, who are both actors, for one episode. And, in another, two of Eddie Marsan’s real-life children, Blue and Bodie, play his character’s kids."
Can you explain a bit about the filming process?
"Well, the production team obviously had to strictly observe the rules of lockdown and couldn’t have any contact with the actors, so their families had to be our crew; they were doing make-up, wardrobe, camera, lighting, everything! For the first episode, Mel, Sheridan Smith’s partner, Jamie, was a natural born cameraman!"
What happened next?
"A live feed from Jamie’s camera would go back to the director who was sitting in his house in Kent, telling him what to do. We’ve tried to make these dramas as professional as we possibly could within the constraints. This is totally new territory for drama – but even if it’s a bit rough around the edges, at least we had a go."
What do you think life will look like after lockdown?
"I think it will be very different. We've all had such a scare that I think there's going to be a real fear of contact when we’re all back together again. We'll need to get our confidence back and I'm not sure how long that will take. For me personally, I’ve been struck by the amount of time I’ve spent with my family and just talked. I do find that heartening and I’d like to think we’d keep that going."
THE FOUR ISOLATION STORIES
In the first episode, Sheridan Smith (Cilla) plays Mel, a heavily pregnant woman who faces having to go through birth without the married father of her child – who’s chosen to stay with his wife and family. So she’s fed up…
"Mel’s life was pretty terrible before isolation happened," reveals Jeff. "So the idea that we’re now all suffering a little bit makes her feel better because now we all know what it’s like.
"The actors' families are our crew; they're doing make-up, wardrobe, camera, lighting, everything. Sheridan’s partner Jamie was a natural born cameraman!"
Ron and Russell
Robert Glenister (Hustle) plays Ron, a man very ill with the virus who has one of his sons, Russell (played by Robert’s real-life actor son, Tom), isolating with him. Their relationship already strained, old wounds are reopened as they’re trapped together…
"Ron is very ill with Coronavirus, just like my wife Tina was," reveals Jeff. "It’s the most ill she's been in the 30 years I’ve known her. Fortunately, she made a complete recovery. So my story doesn't end, like so many have, in tragedy."
Mike and Rochelle
Darren Boyd (Killing Eve) plays paranoid, self-absorbed hypochondriac Mike, whose worst fears have come true. There is an unstoppable virus affecting us all, and you can catch it just by breathing! Mike insists on an online therapy session with his psychiatrist Rochelle (Angela Griffin, The Detail) who must try and talk him round…
Jeff reveals: "This is one of those stories where, by the end of it, you’re wondering who's the patient and who's the therapist!"
On his way to the supermarket, eccentric granddad (David Threlfall, What Remains) passes by the home of his son-in-law (Eddie Marsan, Ray Donovan) and stops at the window to entertain his grandkids (Eddie’s real-life sons, Blue and Bodie). But his visits aren’t entirely welcome…
"Eddie’s character’s wife, Karen, has left him for someone else, so he doesn’t want her dad there," says Jeff. "All granddad wants to do though is see his grandchildren – and dad realises he can’t hate someone forever."
Isolation Stories airs over four nights from Monday May 4 at 9pm on ITV.
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