STV Productions is in the mix for two BAFTA TV Awards on Friday night, when double Oscar-winner Glenda Jackson competes in the Best Actress category for dementia drama Elizabeth Is Missing and Edinburgh-set The Victim vies for Best Mini-Series. For Sarah Brown, the Scottish producer’s creative director of drama, it represents the culmination of six years of work.
“It’s been an amazing 18 months for us. The Victim and Elizabeth Is Missing are the first productions we have made since I joined in 2014. As you know, drama takes a long time to come to fruition,” she says ahead of Friday’s BAFTA ceremony, which will take place online because of the coronavirus pandemic. “The Victim was supposed to go out in 2018, but for various reasons, it didn’t go out until April 2019. It turned out quite well for us because we had two shows going out in one year. It helped alter perceptions of what we do and was a real statement of intent.”
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The two BBC dramas were very different. Kelly Macdonald-fronted The Victim explores Scotland’s unique legal system through the eyes of a mother accused of revealing the new identity of her son’s killer. Elizabeth Is Missing is adapted from the novel of the same name, and focuses on a woman whose struggle with Alzheimer’s cannot halt her investigation into a double disappearance. What unites the two stories, Brown says, is a sense of authenticity and place.
“There was a period where there was a perception that you have to create stories that are quite general and appeal to everybody, and actually in the past 10 years or so, the more specific and more authentic they are to their setting is really important. That’s incredibly encouraging,” Brown explains.
“Audiences are really hungry to be taken to places they don’t know. When you show, say the Edinburgh High Court in The Victim, it’s not a court system you see very much, but because of that it feels fresh and lends a lovely distinctiveness to the show. It’s possible to be a nations and regions indie and still be operating at the highest level.”
Brown adds that this thread of authorship is echoed in other projects on STV Productions’ development slate. The Victim writer Rob Williams is penning other shows for the producer, while Elizabeth Is Missing scribe Andrea Gibb is adapting two books: Damian Barr’s Maggie And Me, a memoir on growing up as a gay man in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, and sex industry mystery novel Fishnet, written by Kirstin Innes. Brown says Maggie And Me is the furthest along of the projects.
STV Productions did not have anything shooting when the pandemic hit in March, so has used recent months to focus on development with a view to getting back into production in 2021. “I’m glad we didn’t have to shut down. We are really driving forward our development. It’s been quite a creative time and it’s allowed us to focus,” Brown says, adding that landing a returning series is a big priority.
Brown says she is also open to co-producing with Northern Irish indie Two Cities after STV Productions acquired a 25% stake in the Patrick Melrose producer in January, while she would not rule out a return for ITV’s classic Scottish detective drama Taggart. “It still sells around the world. If we were ever to do it, it would have to be creatively interesting. We talk about it often, but there’s nothing imminent. You’d have to feel there was a new audience to bring to it — you can’t operate on the old audience alone,” she continues.
Brown also hopes that the BAFTA nod for Elizabeth Is Missing will convert into a U.S. sale for the show. It follows The Victim finding a home in North America through BritBox. The interest in local stories and the number of buyers in the market makes it a thrilling time to be in the genre, she says. “The desire for authorship and for people to tell their unique stories, there is so much hunger for that. It feels like such a creative time.”