Adapting 'Capital' for BBC One

Writer

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How did you become involved in this project?

I was already reading Capital when Derek Wax (Executive Producer), who I’ve worked with before, sent me it. It hadn’t occurred to me that it could be adapted because so much of it is people’s internal dialogue and thoughts, so I thought the challenge of that would be intriguing. I’ve admired John Lanchester’s writing as an economist so to begin with I was just excited to meet him! Then the more I read the book the more I thought it was similar to Dickens, both in terms of catching a moment of time and how the big decisions filter in to everyday life. If you start with the people at the bottom, who absorb the impact of those decisions, there’s something dramatic there. So that’s how it started.

Capital: Roger (Toby Jones), Arabella (Rachael Stirling)(Image Credit: BBC/Kudos/Hal Shinnie)

How did you go about adapting it?

One of my first realisations was that in order to turn it into a contained series, I’d have to lose a couple of story strands. But I wanted to maintain the wonderful mix of people and the near misses that people have. We live next door to people for years and never say anything other than hello and goodbye. People who live there, work there, and deliver stuff there, all have their own lives but all intersect in this one location. I wanted to maintain the spirit of the book. We meet various people at different levels of the economy and see the impact it has on them through their lives and stories. I also wanted to catch the humour and the humanity of the book and through that filter look at the wider political and economic issues.

Capital: Mrs Kamal (Shabana Azmi), Usman (Hamza Jeetooa), Fatima (Kaiya Bakrania), Rohinka (Mona Goodwin), Ahmed (Adeel Akhtar), Shahid (Danny Ashok)(Image Credit: BBC/Kudos/Hal Shinnie)

How would you describe Capital?

The great thing about Capital is that it works on a number of levels. What hooks you in is the initial mystery, residents of a street in London, from mixed racial and social backgrounds, all receive a post card on the same day and that post card says ‘We Want What You Have.’ That is the starting point, what could it possibly mean? The postcards become the engine that drives the story as we get to know the community in the street and become involved in their own mysteries too. That’s the joy of Capital, there is always mystery at the back of your mind in every scene.

Capital: Petunia (Gemma Jones)(Image Credit: BBC/Kudos/Hal Shinnie)

What was it like working with Toby Jones again (after Marvellous)?

I think Toby is a genius and thought that long before I worked with him. He always wants to know a character’s needs, and what’s beneath those needs. Then he takes all that material and somehow embeds it into the character and physically inhabits the character, so that you never think he’s playing the character. It’s fascinating to watch him close up. He carries the emotional complexities in every tiny gesture that his character makes so that you immediately can see what his character is like. A character like Roger is full of contradictions, a city banker with an air of entitlement but also a little insecurity picking away at him. Toby can portray that in his walk alone. That’s what’s great about him, he can portray cold he can portray warm and he can portray both of those things at once.

Watch a clip from 'Capital'

Do you have any favourite moments in Capital?

I have a few favourite moments in the book which I wanted to make sure stayed as favourites in the adaptation. Christmas morning where Roger has been abandoned and left to look after his two 15 children is one that Euros (Director) has done brilliantly. Roger realises that his life is changing but it’s done with such comedy! It is one of those glorious Basil Fawlty moments where the farce is working at one level and the emotional farce is working at another. I also love the Kamals’ chaotic family meals. They are quintessentially archetypal family scenes that everybody lives through, but played with great comedic panache. And when Bogdan the Polish builder talks to Matya the Hungarian nanny about the affluent Londoners they are working for, it’s fascinating. Capital has a wonderful scale but is all about the minute observations of human nature.

Watch Capital on BBC One from Tuesday 24 November 2015 at 9pm and on BBC iPlayer

Meet the characters in Capital

Watch an interview with Peter Bowker and read his BAFTA-winning script for 'Marvellous'

This interview was first published on the BBC Media Centre. Read more interviews

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