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Filming Lapland: The comedy and tragedy of Christmas

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Zawe Ashton Zawe Ashton | 10:00 UK time, Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Lapland covers quite touching issues that are affecting the Lewis family - like the loss of their family patriarch - and then my character, the holiday rep Jingle Jill interrupts with quite hilarious material. It's very much a comedy drama.

I remember when I read the script how moving and touching it was, it really jumped off the page.

I think Michael Wynne, the writer, is really clever. His script has the kind of themes like humour, loss and family conflict that definitely affect people over Christmas.

I was just really drawn to Jingle Jill potentially for what she doesn't say. A lot of her lines are about the tour around Lapland, "Come and see Santa at the Christmas village", that sort of thing, but there is an awful lot going on in her head.

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Jingle Jill takes the family on a quad biking trip

In one scene she admits to Stephen Graham's character Pete that she isn't having a very good time, she'd rather be somewhere far more sexy and glamorous - an 18-30 tour in Val-d'Isère.

She's a little bit like one of those shunned X Factor contestants, who can't sing but are convinced they could sell more records than Beyoncé.

I wanted to embody someone like that, especially at this time of year when all those reality TV shows are rife.

There's something interesting about those people, those contestants who are like "Sorry? What do you mean four no's? I don't understand. I'm a star, clearly! Who are you Gary Barlow? Who ARE you?"

I was creating as much of an inner life for Jingle Jill as possible, she is extremely warm and sweet, just maybe going the wrong way about pursuing her ultimate fantasy of glamour and potential fame.

She'd rather be stalking fit ski instructors in Val D'Isere than be in Lapland.

I wanted to make her as much of a three-dimensional character as possible. The director Catherine Morshead let me improvise a bit with the lines so that people at home can see Jill is a real person with feelings.

You can see that when Jill's mask slips and she admits to being sick of Lapland and desperately in search of Mr Right.

I haven't done a job like Jill's, but I used to conduct my younger brother and sister's birthday parties.

I would make the games up on the spot and the younger kids didn't clock it, they just thought they were actual games.

I learned a lot about delivery from that, as long as you're having fun, other people will have fun by proxy.

The kids had no idea that I was just making them run to various corners of the room because as long as you make it sound exciting, they'll buy it.

I wouldn't have gone for a job as a tour guide like Jill's because I'd find it hard to be so cheerful 24 hours a day.

Also dealing with the general public and lots of children takes a massive amount of skill, which I think I can do, but not for a long period. And not at Christmas!

Saying that, I Iove being cheesy. I was actually able to set free the Butlins redcoat within me. I love singing cheesy music, air grabs, air punches and I love a power ballad!

I watched lots of Butlins audition tapes online when I was preparing the role, there are some amazing singers! Much better than Jill! But what she lacks in vocal styling she makes up for in fun. Kids like her.

My audition for the part was relatively painless, as sometimes auditioning for comedy isn't. I just kind of went in and did my best.

I was recovering from laryngitis and still had this really deep voice when filming began, but it sort of worked for Jill. It sounded like she was a hard-living girl after hours, someone who drank too much reindeer wine.

Jill has some funny lines. One of my favourites was probably, when talking about the do's and don'ts of the Ice Hotel - "No contact lenses! They WILL freeze to your eyeballs and you WILL be blind for life!".

Jill's sauna scene with Pete was very, very funny, we did that in one take because we had to run out in to the woods in Norway and it was freezing!

We filmed Lapland in October/November time. It was nice being close to Christmas and getting in the spirit of it all without it actually being Christmas and feeling stressed out, which is how I feel now.

When I arrived in Norway, it was just-awe inspiring, so beautiful. We all came home with albums of photos on our mobile phones, we were like "Here's a mountain, here's another mountain, oh there's a reindeer... ".

No people, just an album dedicated to mountains, streams and huskies. I loved the huskies, I've always wanted a dog. I have a gorgeous pic of Sue Johnston with a husky, I must send it to her.

Jack (Adam Scotland), Ray (William Ash), Mandy (Julie Graham), Eileen (Sue Johnston), Pete (Stephen Graham), Liam (Ellis Murphy), Paula (Elizabeth Berrington), Melissa (Georgia Doyle), Ethan (Connor Dempsey)

Jack (Adam Scotland), Ray (William Ash), Mandy (Julie Graham), Eileen (Sue Johnston), Pete (Stephen Graham), Liam (Ellis Murphy), Paula (Elizabeth Berrington), Melissa (Georgia Doyle), Ethan (Connor Dempsey)

Working with Sue was brilliant, she's the most generous actress in the entire world.

She's so lovely, the star on top of the Christmas tree, so composed. It was really inspirational that after a career like hers, she still finds so much joy in it which is so infectious.

I've not been doing this for half as long as her and I'm already a bit moany!

Really inspirational woman. I loved her in The Royle Family. I never expected to be doing comedy really, so I don't think I ever thought I'd work with comedy actors necessarily.

Sue's able to do something really truthful and sad, and still be hilarious - a real skill. That's what moves me, when comedy and tragedy are side by side like that.

I didn't really have any expectations of what the cast would be like to work with. As an actor, you know that acting personas aren't the real person.

But it was so great to work with such a stellar cast. Stephen Graham was the sweetest man, in complete contrast to a lot of his amazing roles so far.

He adopted me as a little sister which I loved and was so generous on set with advice. Julie Graham and Liz Berrington were wonderful, we had some hysterical evenings when we were there!

Will Ash... I just want a mini Will Ash in my pocket, such a lovely man.

I was the only southerner in the cast. But I felt like an honorary Mancunian after going to drama school there, I love Manchester, I actually had a Northern twang when I came back down south after studying.

I learned so much watching all of this cast at work. And the kids were so sweet!

Filming wasn't stressful, really, with so few hours of daylight in a day in Lapland, we were against the clock but we managed it!

What was a bit stressful was having 25 Christmas dinners one day when we filmed the Christmas Day lunch - that was stressful on the brain and the stomach.

Zawe Ashton plays Jingle Jill in Lapland.

Lapland is on BBC One at 10pm on Saturday, 24 December. For further programme times please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    just watching the program now. Apart from Eileen none of the other characters have any redeeming features . Julie Grahams character in particular is loathsome. not particularly well written and not very funny.

  • Comment number 2.

    Previews of this programme mentioned it being located in Finland, but it was obviously filmed in Norway. However, some of the language and incidental music was in Finnish. Very confusing. Do the film makers think that people can't spot the difference? Also, the Arctic Circle they claimed to have visited would have been hundreds of kilometres further south than the mountains that were shown. Please get your facts straight. I know it's only fiction, but it's still annoying.

  • Comment number 3.

    I agree with carpthefish - what an utterly dreadful 'comedy drama'.

    If the intention was to leave us with a warm and fuzzy feeling, well, it didn't. My family found it thoroughly depressing.

    My 12 year old son could write a better script...

  • Comment number 4.

    I couldn't agree with the comments more. Did the writers honestly believe people would enjoy watching this on Christmas eve! A depressing, uncomfortable watch, with no hint of humour and very poor farcical acting (the chef in particular).
    In the current financial climate, are we expected to believe that a family going on what I could only describe as a dream break, would be so unhappy, selfish and rude.
    Badly written, researched, and acted.

  • Comment number 5.

    Is this really the best the beeb can come up with ? Funny-NO, Feel Good factor-NONE

    I was praising the BBC a few weeks previous over Frozen Planet ( Excellent ) but this was poorly written and I would sack the casting director, you insult our intelligence and you wonder why people are unhappy paying TV fees.

    If you want funny...watch Modern Family an abc prog on sky

  • Comment number 6.

    This was trumpeted as a 'Heart-warming comedy'. Well, if that programme was evidence of BBC Comedy in these cost cutting times, I suggest that the Corporation forget about being fair and reducing all services across the board. Instead it should make a bold cut and lose one entire channel or service. Then it could better fund the remaining output and give us something that does not breach the advertising standards legislation.

    I'm just glad that I didn't waste disk space and record it!

    Sue Johnston and the rest of the cast must have been really hard up to sign their contracts for this load of depressing tripe.

  • Comment number 7.

    I enjoyed Lapland & I'm mistified by other contributors spikey, ungenerous comments. Surely comedy dramas don't need to be factually accurate. So what if it was a mix of Norwegian and Finnish cultural references..maybe it was close to the border! gathered from the generic 'Santa Hotel' that the actual location was intentionally anonymised. It was set near Norwegian mountains - but was it 100 kms from anywhere particular? For me the lack of snow on the ground was strange but filming in October explains it. Liked the acting, script & found it amusing. Merry Christmas :)

  • Comment number 8.

    Does anyone have a clue about the name of the 'Traditional Scandinavian Song' (as it is labelled in the subtitles, about four-fifths of the way through this show?

  • Comment number 9.

    I disagree with several of the below comments!! I have not laughed out loud at a comedy from the BBC in a long time, Jingle Jill and the husband who continually looks for the northern lights were by far my favourite characters, tbh I'd love to see a full series of jingle Jill! I normally wouldn't leave a comment ESPECIALLY on Christmas night however I was trying to find out if I could buy Lapland on DVD!! Great show definately worth watching!

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree with Bambalina and Callynka. I really enjoyed the show and some of the comments above are a little harsh! Possibly I am a little biased because I visited Finnish Lapland in February this year and fell in love with it.... although we did notice that the scenery was a little different and we guessed it was actually Norway (possibly because they got off a Norwegian airlines plane at the start!!) but all the same it was thoroughly enjoyable! Thankfully our trip didn't include a journey on the pudding bus!! Or sharing a hotel with the awful daughter in law in the show! But Jingle Jill was fantastic and definitely the best character in it!

  • Comment number 11.

    This programme had huge potential. Christmas, Lapland, Santa and snow. In the end though it was more Eastenders than magical winter wonderland. Arguments, more arguments then a woman repeatedly punching her husband in the face.
    Funnier than Crimewatch, but only just!

  • Comment number 12.

    I thought it a reasonably amusing programme, although some forethought would have suggested that a lack of snow was a mistake!
    Do the BBC/writers understand the Finnish chef's curse - or did he ad lib? If translated into English I think there would be a significant protest from many people!!! It's much worse that the "f-word"!!

  • Comment number 13.

    #12 I said much worse than the F word whilst watching it !

  • Comment number 14.

    As others have said, the lack of snow made this very unconvincing. But it wasn't bad on the whole. In fact, compared to that Bodyguard thing with David Jason in it, it was a masterpiece.

  • Comment number 15.

    Does anyone know the name of the song (and the singer) that was played at around 55 minutes into this programme?

  • Comment number 16.

    Hello, I'm the executive producer for Lapland. Thanks to all of you for your feedback about Lapland – it’s been interesting and useful to read your thoughts good and bad. Sorry to those of you who did not enjoy the show. It was scripted by award winning writer Michael Wynne who, for me, had really captured the, not always sunny, tensions of a family coming together at Christmas, albeit in an unusual setting. Michael based the show on his own visit to Lapland and it had a certain autobiographical element to it which I thought gave the story a real authenticity. However, I can see that it didn’t hit the spot for some of you. To Horton and Catcha61 – the music details are now all up on the Lapland webpage : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018nnlt so hopefully that will give you all the information you need. To jonjon253 – just to reassure you the language was complied and approved via a translator and deemed appropriate for the post-watershed time slot. Once again, thanks to all who took the trouble to comment, feedback is always extremely valuable and helps inform future projects.


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