Filming began today on new productions of Alan Bennett’s critically acclaimed Talking Heads monologues
Ten of the original pieces will be remade, with the addition of two new ones written by Bennett last year.
Acknowledging the ‘key role’ it has in ‘offering new programmes at a time of national crisis’, the BBC note that the contained nature of the monologues allowed the opportunity to tell ‘timely and relevant’ stories whilst keeping to safe working practices during Covid-19.
“In such difficult circumstances, that the BBC should choose to remount both series of Talking Heads, and produce two entirely new ones, is a comfort and a huge compliment. I hope a new generation of actors will get and give as much pleasure as we did 20 and 30 years ago.” – Alan Bennett
First broadcast on the BBC in 1988 and 1998, the Talking Heads monologues broke new ground for television, and are widely celebrated as Alan Bennett’s masterpieces.
The originals had a stellar cast made up of Patricia Routledge, Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole, Julie Walters, Thora Hird, Eileen Atkins, David Haig, Penelope Wilton, and Bennett himself. They won two Baftas, an RTS award and are included in the A-level and GCSE English literature syllabus.
Starring in the remakes are: Jodie Comer, Monica Dolan, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Sarah Lancashire, Lesley Manville, Lucian Msamati, Maxine Peake, Rochenda Sandall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Imelda Staunton, and Harriet Walter.
“Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are among the masterworks of one of the very greatest writers in TV, film and theatre history. It has been a profound and fascinating experience to work out a way of making them again, this time with a company of phenomenal actors who are the equal of those who first made them; with a group of leading theatre directors, colleagues and friends of long standing; and with a team behind the camera that represents the best of the British TV and film industries.
“It is a wonderful bonus that two of the 2020 Talking Heads are totally new, written only a short time before the current crisis began. Everyone involved has been working in an unprecedented way, rigorously observing social distancing, entirely rethinking ways of filmmaking that until a few weeks ago seemed routine. The shoot will never bring any of us within touching distance of each other, but I hope that in every other way it will reach out and touch millions of viewers.” – Nicholas Hytner, Lead Director and Producer
The monologues which will air on BBC One in the coming months are as follows, in alphabetical order:
Jodie Comer in Her Big Chance (1988), directed by Josie Rourke
Monica Dolan in The Shrine (2019), directed by Nicholas Hytner
Martin Freeman in A Chip In The Sugar (1988), directed by Jeremy Herrin
Tamsin Greig in Nights In The Garden of Spain (1998), directed by Marianne Elliott
Sarah Lancashire in An Ordinary Woman (2019), directed by Nicholas Hytner
Lesley Manville in Bed Among The Lentils (1988), directed by Nicholas Hytner
Lucian Msamati in Playing Sandwiches (1998), directed by Jeremy Herrin
Maxine Peake in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet (1988), directed by Sarah Frankcom
Rochenda Sandall in The Outside Dog (1998), directed by Nadia Fall
Kristin Scott Thomas in The Hand Of God (1998), directed by Jonathan Kent
Imelda Staunton in A Lady Of Letters (1988), directed by Jonathan Kent
Harriet Walter in Soldiering On (1988), directed by Marianne Elliott
“Covid-19 has laid waste to drama production in the UK, but it has also posed a challenge: how do we adhere to restrictions while still offering British viewers the chance to lose themselves in great stories at this time of national need? Full of insight, wit, daring and compassion, these are stories of individual lives – but of great resonance. I am so grateful to Alan, Nicholas Hytner, Kevin Loader and the whole team for the caution, ingenuity and wisdom which they have shown in bringing these stories to the screen.” – Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama
Talking Heads will be produced by London Theatre Company for BBC One, with filming taking place at BBC Elstree Studios using existing sets.