The Thirteenth Tale

...we’ve done our utmost to do justice to Ms Setterfield’s sinuous tale of the encounter of two very different writers who have, however, a compelling secret in common, against a full-blooded background of murder, incest and arson."Christopher Hampton, screenwriter
Date: 02.12.2013     Last updated: 25.03.2014 at 13.20
Category: BBC Two; Drama
Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton introduces his adaptation of bestselling novel The Thirteenth Tale for BBC Two.

Ever since, as a small child, I slipped into the library of the Exiles’ Club in Alexandria while my father was playing snooker, and cracked open an old, illustrated edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, I’ve had a strong taste for the Gothic. I’ve been able to indulge this from time to time over the years with versions of or variations on Jekyll & Hyde, Dracula and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. So my interest was immediately piqued when I was sent a first novel – The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – squarely in the centre of this tradition; the more so since it was sent to me by my friend Norma Heyman, who produced my first Hollywood screenplay The Honorary Consul more than 30 years ago and has since gone on to produce three more of my films, including Dangerous Liaisons and the above-mentioned variant on Jekyll & Hyde, which was called Mary Reilly.

To distil a densely plotted 400-page novel which operates in three different time periods – and makes bold use of the favourite Gothic theme of identical twins – into a 90-minute film, has necessarily entailed a considerable amount of cutting and re-shaping: but we’ve done our utmost to do justice to Ms Setterfield’s sinuous tale of the encounter of two very different writers who have, however, a compelling secret in common, against a full-blooded background of murder, incest and arson. It’s been a great pleasure to work again with that most emotionally powerful of actresses, Vanessa Redgrave and to be introduced to the formidably talented Olivia Colman, not to mention the rest of a splendid – and largely female – cast. This is my first foray into television drama for more than 20 years; things have developed and moved forward considerably since the old, more cheap and cheerful days. It’s very good to be back.

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