Regrets We've got a few! Lives unravel and secrets come to light when a group of flatmates from the Sixties reunite in the BBC’s latest ‘modern’ period drama White Heat
Fresh from the success of Call The Midwife, programme makers are embracing the idea of ‘modern’ period drama. The latest is a new BBC show that mines the rich recent past and runs from the 1960s to the present day.
White Heat is about seven flatmates brought together by rebellious Tory MP’s son Jack, played by Pirates Of The Caribbean actor Sam Claflin. A charismatic bad boy whose raison d’tre appears to be annoying his father (played by Jeremy Northam), he is the landlord of the house and has deliberately chosen his tenants as a social experiment because they are all completely different: there is a medical student and an artist; a black immigrant and an Irish Catholic; a computer nerd and a free-spirited English student.
All star cast: From left, Jack (Sam Claflin), Charlotte (Claire Foy), Alan (Lee Ingleby), Lilly (Myanna Buring), Jay (Reece Ritchie), Orla (Jessica Gunning) and Victor (David Gyasi)
We meet them as sixtysomethings in
the present day – with older stars including Juliet Stevenson, Michael
Kitchen and Lindsay Duncan taking the roles – as they reunite for the
first time in 20 years at the house they once shared. We discover one of
the group has died and left the house to the others. As the story
unravels through colourful flashbacks we learn who has died, and the
reasons behind a major falling out among the former friends.
WHO'S WHO IN WHITE HEAT
JACK (Michael Kitchen and Sam Claflin)
Charismatic landlord of the house who’s desperate to be loved but refuses to let anyone get too close.
CHARLOTTE (Juliet Stevenson and Claire Foy)
Middle-class girl who’s politicised by the way she sees her father treat her mother.
ALAN (Paul Copley and Lee Ingleby)
Geordie computer whizz who still acts and dresses like he’s in the 1950s. Alan is in love with Lilly.
LILLY (Lindsay Duncan and MyAnna Buring)
Northern art student who constantly falls for the wrong man.
JAY (Ramon Tikaram and Reece Ritchie)
Second-generation Asian immigrant, training to be a doctor. Hides his homosexuality.
ORLA (Sorcha Cusack and Jessica Gunning)
Cuddly Irish Catholic who is the chief shoulder to cry on until her family gets caught up in the IRA bombings.
VICTOR (Hugh Quarshie and David Gyasi)
Kind-hearted Jamaican law student who is in love with Charlotte.
Written as a semi-autobiographical piece
by Paula Milne, whose work includes TV series The Politician’s Wife and
movie Endgame, White Heat interweaves politics and social change with
human emotions. ‘I wanted to write about the things I saw and the way
things have changed; things like race and sexual politics,’ says Paula,
who depicts her own experiences such as putting a curtain ring on her
wedding finger so she would be prescribed the contraceptive pill, which
was only available to married women then.
For the young actors playing the roles of the students, it was a lesson in history they had never really thought about. Sam, 26, says, ‘My knowledge of history is really lacking so this forced me to open my eyes up. Even with Margaret Thatcher I was only aware of who she was, I didn’t know intricate details about her belief system. I fully underestimated a lot of things about the era.’
Similarly, David Gyasi, who plays Jamaican law student Victor, says he only asked his father, who emigrated from Ghana in 1966, about his experiences of racism after reading the script. ‘At first I didn’t want to do the part because I saw Victor as weak because he never stands up to the racism,’ says David. ‘In one scene Victor does nothing as a gang of white youths throw peanuts at him while he is sitting on a bus. I asked my father about it and we had a conversation we’d never had before. I had never thought about what he must have gone through when he came over here.
‘He said his number-one rule was to maintain his dignity. He didn’t fight back, but to stand up and walk away is also empowering. It makes you the bigger man and I never understood that until I went through it myself for this show.’ Each of the six episodes has a different major news event at its centre, from the death of Churchill to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is a fascinating insight into the recent past, but it’s the human drama that is gripping, says Claire Foy, who plays Charlotte, a feminist who spouts about women’s rights yet allows herself to be treated like dirt by her lover Jack. ‘You want to find out what happens to each of the flatmates,’ says Claire, who also plays Lady Persephone in BBC1’s Upstairs Downstairs. ‘Even though I’ve read all the scripts, I can’t wait to watch it all and see the story of their lives unfold.’
White Heat, BBC2, Thursday, 9pm.