Passion and pride in Preston

The Preston Passion Tom Ellis, Aimie Leach and Samantha Bond will star in three separate dramas during The Preston Passion

Shot through by a gun bullet, the prayer and hymnbooks in the pocket of a fatally wounded soldier inspired some of this year's standout Easter offering on BBC One.

Scriptwriters on The Preston Passion mined the story of loss and faith from World War I to produce 'Mary', one of three short dramas in a live spectacle from the Lancashire city on Good Friday.

Drawing parallels with the mother of Jesus, the tale also incorporates the true account of how volunteers established a free tearoom at Preston rail station during the war, catering for more than 3 million - many of whom were soldiers travelling down from Scotland.

Creative producer Mike Smith says: 'We wanted to show that the Good Friday story - the Passion story - isn't simply locked into events that Christians believe happened 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. It's part of a story which has touched points in people's lives since then and now.'

For one hour from Friday noon, The Preston Passion will weave live music with the pre-recorded dramas in front of 3000 locals, taking 'Easter out of the church and onto the streets' (as the Bishop of Bradford wrote in the Radio Times).

Like last year's Frankenstein's Wedding in Leeds, the mass-participation event in Preston will include the crowd performing a synchronised dance to a contemporary song (in this case it's You've Got the Love sung by Jamelia).

The Preston Passion Aimie Leach plays a young carer in a short focused on self-sacrifice

Smith is reluctant to compare The Preston Passion with the previous Manchester Passion and Liverpool Nativity for BBC Three, saying: 'Often what gets you to do programmes is the very desire to do something that's fresh and new and hasn't been done before…obviously for its audience this is quite different.'

The show is in Preston because the city is marking its Guild year - the civic celebration rooted from 1179 which is held every 20 years.

BBC departments (Religion & Ethics, Drama and English Regions) have collaborated on the show with external bodies in Lancashire, aided by BBC North whose task is to connect better with audiences across the patch.

Preston's history and present runs through the three dramas, the first of which concerns a Pontius Pilate-type dilemma for mayor Samuel Horrocks (Tom Ellis) in 1842. Local actress Aimie Leach, aged 12, leads the final short as a young carer looking after her alcoholic mother in the present day.

Linking the dramas with the performances in Preston will be Fern Britton, guiding viewers through the story of the original Passion, i.e. the sufferings of Jesus between the Last Supper and crucifixion.

'The dramas are very specific to Preston but they're told in a way that is universal,' adds Smith. 'So if you're watching in Southampton, I hope you're not thinking, 'What's Preston got to do with me'…It could be anywhere.'

The Preston Passion, Good Friday 12pm, BBC One.


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