Q&A: Unforgotten featuring Nicola Walker & Sanjeev Bhaskar at the BFI & Radio Times TV Festival

WHERE? BFI, BFI & Radio Times Television Festival, London

WHEN? 13/4/19

We’re at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival which is an appropriate location because hit ITV cold case series Unforgotten was born here when writer Chris Lang pitched it to producer Laura Mackie (2nd from left and far right below) over coffee.

  • Read on for reasons including the unlikely inspiration for the central conceit of the series

The show’s original title was 27 Arlington Crescent, after the fictional north London address where the remains of a 17-year-old who disappeared in 1976 are discovered many years later.

But the pair decided on a more generic name change when it was felt the series’ central theme, the process of readjustment that must take place when we find out that a friend or colleague is not who we thought they were, could run for longer than 1 season.

Writer Chris Lang explains the idea: ‘I’d been interested in the Stuart Hall case and watching it unfold. Here was a man well known in popular culture who many people had grown up with since the 60s and he’d been accused of something terrible which he had initially denied.’

Nicola Walker (2nd from right below), who plays DCI Cassie Stuart, says: ‘I read the script and thought Chris had captured what was happening in that moment. He’d noticed that icons were falling all round us. That time when you opened the paper and these individuals that you’d been taught to respect were being accused of terrible things. It felt incredibly exciting that someone had spotted that and had put it in a script.’

Partner Sanjeev Bhaskar (centre above), who plays DI Sunny Khan, says: ‘A lot of actors before auditions just find their character in a script and only read those bits. I didn’t do that. I read it from the beginning and found it a real page turner. I went to the audition thinking I wanted to tell Chris how fantastic I thought his script was.’

Lang had decided to do something different with this series and his 2 investigators were, in his words, ‘extraordinary in their ordinariness’. He didn’t want his detectives to require external tropes to make them seem more interesting.

He feels the series acknowledges the toll such work can have on the detectives involved and wanted the trials of each series to be weighing on the main characters as the story progresses.

Walker adds: ‘It seems to me to make perfect sense that someone so good at their job and committed to it would have to pay a cost for that.’

Bhaskar notes that the characteristic needed to be successful in such work, heightened empathy, can also be damaging for those involved.

Walker thinks she’ll never be as lucky again to work on a long running series with the same writer and director.

Lang explains that he had initially thought about doing the 2nd series, which tells a story about child sex abuse and how that affects a whole life, as the 1st. Series 3 was influenced by real events when he went on a disastrous weekend with friends over the millennium new year’s eve.

Producer Mackie explains that she has seen some of the scripts for the 4th series but does not want to know who the killer is this time.

Lang says: ‘It’s about how things can change in a few seconds. How the whole balance of the rest of your life can shift. It’s always about thinking there but for the grace of God go I.’

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Unforgotten. Tickets to events like this
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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