07/07/2022

aNesley Woodhouse, the Nottinghamshire village where James Graham grew up, has been invaded twice by hordes of police and the media. The playwright was an infant for the first time during the miners’ strike in 1984/85. But the second time, in 2004, he was just coming back from the University of Hull when Keith Frogson, a former coal miner, was murdered. “In those early moments, the police were afraid that someone would be killed for reasons related to the strike,” Graham says.

When another villager – Chanel Taylor – was killed, the case became more complicated and brought more waves of police to the scene. Fascinated by the psychology of officers returning to a society in which they were widely reprimanded for their actions during the strike, Graham imagined the problems of the Sherwood Twins, a six-part BBC drama. Viewers who expected something about Robin Hood from the title are not entirely wrong: the crossbow was one of the weapons of murder, and the vast green canopy of Sherwood Forest became the scene of one of the largest stalkings in British history.

But it is the coals deep under the foliage that drives the story. During the year-long industrial strike that marked Margaret Thatcher’s second term, which shattered the mining industry and unions, the Nottinghamshire coalfields were so unusual that the majority of miners continued to work. “Three-quarters of the men have gone back to work,” Graham says. ‘About a dozen people in my village stayed outside. When I mentioned in Hull that I was from Nottinghamshire,’ I was upset with Scab County several times. Decades later, the Scabs and Strikers of Nottinghamshire sat at different corners of the pub or crossed the street to avoid each other some”.

David Morrissey, who plays a police chief investigating murders, recalls a vivid story from his research: “So now, 40 years later, when Mansfield or a Nottingham football team plays Barnsley, for example, or another club in Yorkshire plays , will be mocked by the cries: “Try! scab!’ And a guy told me he’d take his seat and call back, “Yeah, but not me!” So these divisions still derive.”

“When your agent tells you the role is a cop, your heart sinks a little bit”…David Morrissey, with Lindsey Duncan, in Sherwood. Image source: Matt Squire / BBC / House Productions

Morrissey had “somehow forgotten that miners in Nottinghamshire are basically going to work”. He had more vivid memories of another element of the drama, the “spy cop” stories: the alleged use of secret police and spies to infiltrate mining communities. Graham argues, “Through Line of Duty and other shows, people are getting used to the idea of ​​covert policing. So one of the challenges of this show has been to make it clear that what is being investigated here is not terrorism or organized crime, but ordinary people who are spying showing up in a setting. their work or at a birthday party for the kids and they come forward. I don’t understand why there’s no more anger.”

Sherwood discovers a buried memory of Leslie Manville, who plays Julie Jackson, the wife of one of the victims in Graham’s story. In 1984, I took part in a show at the Royal Court Theater in London about the wives of striking miners: “We went to meet some women but we also got up at four in the morning and went to the picket lines. And I was scared. It was hard work: police horses, armor. It stuck with this feeling of physical danger and how quickly I started running to find a bus and get out of there.”

“I look forward to all these letters of complaint”…James Graham broke some golden rules with Sherwood. Photo: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Manville found the memory of this menacing atmosphere helpful for the role, as well as meeting some of the women of Nottinghamshire: “The coach brought their accents together so I could listen to the audio, but they were fun when they talked about their lives. For her, the key to Sherwood is the long-running feud: ‘My character lives next door to me.'” Her sister wanted to see and love her, but she couldn’t because their husbands were on opposite sides of the strike.”

Graham is so familiar with the reconstruction of political events that he does not remember. His groundbreaking 2012 play, This House, featured parliamentarian flogging and carrying critically ill MPs before the 1979 vote that toppled the Liberal Labor coalition and provoked Thatcherism. And despite being a Labor and Remain voter, Graham is known for his respect for both sides. There are decent conservatives in this house, while some felt that Brexit: The Uncivil War was too friendly with Dominic Cummings, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

“I always try to see the other side,” says the author. “I can’t believe this has nothing to do with growing up in Nottinghamshire and seeing decent people severing sides. In our cultural understanding of the miners’ strike, the focus is understandably on strikers and hardship, considering the great films like Billy Elliot and Brassed Off. But I felt important Looking at this from the other side in Sherwood.”

Graham sees a connection with his own Cummings drama: “There is a clear parallel to the division of families and friendship groups due to Brexit. Both the miners’ strike and Brexit suddenly forced a binary choice on people. Am I staying for the rest of my life because I voted to stay in A referendum I never asked? I didn’t want to vote, so I chose.”

It’s easy to imagine James Graham’s drama about the miners’ strike, with Morrissey as union leader Arthur Scargill and Manville as Thatcher. “Or why not the other way around?” laughs Manville. But Sherwood, unlike most of Graham’s plays, uses fictional characters. “The decision to fantasize was driven by a responsibility to the community because you know the families who were already involved,” he says. My uncle lived on the street where a murder took place. And unlike other real-life crime stories, where the images of the participants become very familiar, this is not so. So there is more creative freedom. I was grateful not to expose my friends and neighbors to direct drama.”

‘There is a clear parallel’… Graham’s exit from the European Union: the uncivil war. Image source: Joss Barratt / Channel 4 / PA

Does this reduce legal problems? Graham laughs. “Yeah. When you text the lawyers, there’s often a traffic light system — a green one you can say, yellow for a bit of concern, red for you alone. I don’t have to say this, but I’ll be very happy when it comes back in red. You think,” something What’s going on here.” Ink, a 2017 play about Rupert Murdoch, “is back in the beautiful red!”

For Sherwood, Morrissey met the original investigative officer but confirmed that DCS Ian St Clair “is not him but a fictional character”. With more cops on TV these days than in the Scotland Yard canteen, the actor admits, “When your agent tells you the role is about a cop, your heart sinks a bit. But even though Ian is a cop and good at it, the drama is really about his stature. In the community “.

While the detectives are generally on the outside, this cop is on the inside, like Kate Winslet’s character in Mare Of Easttown (which Sherwood can be compared to). Morrissey says, “When he goes to interviews, he not only goes to a house as he usually does, but to a house he might know. The glue of society and its history affects his relationships with the characters.”

Careful not to write a police action, Graham deliberately broke some rules: “We decided to tell the audience who the killer was at the end of the first episode, which caused an entirely existential crisis for the BBC because that’s not what you’re supposed to do.” But I felt relieved and surprised to interrupt it.”

The scripts also presented Manville with a challenge to play someone who is traumatized and heartbroken for over 90% of the show: “The part that Julie sees at the beginning is the standard, very short. It breaks really fast. That’s why I wanted to put as many as possible.” From the nuggets of the mundane in the foreground – messing with grandchildren and so on – so that the public invested in them before the crisis happened.”

This way for Thatcherism... this house at Garrick's Theatre, London in 2016.
This way for Thatcherism… this house at Garrick’s Theatre, London in 2016. Photo: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Viewers will also hear something rare in TV dramas: two characters talking simultaneously. Despite being a norm in theatre, contrapuntal dialogue is discouraged on television as it causes translation and editing problems and leads to letters of complaint. Manville gestures. “Yeah. It’s also an audio recording thing. One way to keep up with the pace in the theater is to start speaking quickly before the other person stops. But sound engineers hate it and prefer a gap. But we did it.” Graham says one of his favorite moments was when Manville and Claire spoke Rashbrook, as her sister, on the doorstep at the same time: ‘I look forward to all those letters of complaint.’

TV’s thirst for lengthy content means that few series stay one-offs, but is Sherwood supposedly immune to a sequel, like, say, Someone Relaying Local Falkland Islands or Gulf War Victims? “I always assumed it was an isolated incident,” Graham says. “But there have been discussions about whether other stories could be developed within this community, so I just don’t know.”

Maybe the detective and the widow get married? “Yeah, go to the Bahamas,” Morrissey says.

“Hey!” Graham warns. “You reside in Nottingham. It’s a great honor to bring my home community to the big screen.”