Mayday is a brand new drama for BBC One, starring Sophie Okonedo, Aidan Gillen, Peter Firth and Lesley Manville. It was written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip (Whitechapel) and directed by Brian Welsh (Black Mirror, In Our Name).
Introduction by Ben Court and Caroline Ip
The idea for Mayday came to us one night when we were watching Crimewatch. A heinous crime had been described and the man responsible was of unusual depravity and evil. The public were duly asked to contact the studio if they knew of any persons who lived in the vicinity of the horror who matched that description. Later, during the update, it was revealed that three people had called in, each naming a possible suspect. Assuming that one of the names led to the man described, that meant that there were at least two other people who knew someone they believed was capable of committing a terrible crime. We found this fascinating.
Who were these people? Did they suspect a friend? A colleague? Or a husband? A son? What was it about this person in their lives that led them to look at the bloodstains of the reconstruction, hear the weeping of the family, and conclude he might be the perpetrator.
And so Mayday began with this thought: what would it feel like to suspect someone you love of a terrible crime?
We decided from the beginning that this would not be a procedural. We were already working on Whitechapel and wanted to create a drama far away from incident rooms and crime scenes. Mayday would take place on the edge of the police investigation. The characters see the police in the distance and speak to them only occasionally as they try to keep their secrets and hold their lives together.
The setting was important to us. We didn't want to create another urban drama, and we wanted a location that would feel fresh and authentic. It had to be a place we knew well so we chose the Sussex downs. The location quickly became an integral part of the story. The town is medieval, surrounded by woods. A place where English traditions are fiercely guarded and upheld, of pagans, and folklore and corn dollies. Where we live, the history of the land is part of the fabric of everyday. The houses sit on ancient battlegrounds and are all haunted by sad spectres. The landscape is so old that it bears marks where the devil once walked. There are places you can go at night to listen to phantom horses race across the downs. It is not unusual to find old shoes hidden in walls as protection against witches.
We realised that if we told the story in this location, that things would get weird. We'd be writing about our world, and quite frankly, it's a strange place.
Mayday begins when the May Queen goes missing. A wife suspects her husband but has her reputation to protect. A son suspects his father but is afraid of being alone. A brother suspects his brother but has too much to lose. A mother of three tries not to suspect her husband because it would destroy her children.
As the hunt for Hattie goes on, it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. Hattie was not just a 14-year-old May Queen. She had many secrets and they are only now being revealed.