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29 October 2014
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England Expects
Steven Mackintosh as Ray

England Expects


Production Notes


 

"It's time to make a stand. If we had a night-shift to turn up the temperature... a few attacks on ethnics - nothing big or obviously organised - but enough to make the Muslims react, fight back. If white voters see Muslims rioting in London, mobs looting, well if that doesn't get the homeland up in arms, nothing will." Larry, England Expects


When development began on BBC ONE's England Expects over three years ago, producer Ruth Caleb was interested in exploring how the far right in Britain was seeking to change its image, exploiting people's fears about immigration and asylum seekers to try and gain a foothold in British politics.


But none of those involved in the drama realised quite how far and how quickly the far right would have advanced by the time it was filmed and ready to transmit.


The events of 9/11, the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, combined with media coverage of immigration issues and Government policies, have fuelled a public backlash against asylum seekers and Muslims in particular.


Europe as a whole is seeing an increase in the number of far right parties looking to get a foothold in politics.

 

In the UK, up to 600 candidates are planning to stand for the upcoming European, local and Greater London Authority elections in June.


The issue of racism and the far right is once more becoming a topic that British politicians can no longer ignore.


Only recently, Conservative party leader Michael Howard travelled to Burnley and accused the British National Party of being "a bunch of thugs dressed up as a political party", and called for tougher asylum and immigrations controls to ease social tensions.


"The political temperature is rising," says Caleb. "Far right presence on local councils has grown and, in a democracy, it's important that we raise the debate about such issues."


Writer and executive producer Frank Deasy says: "It is striking how the far right are giving their image a makeover. I was keen to explore the realities of that, and in doing so began to feel there was a very powerful story to be told about the real nature of these people who belong to far right groups."


Nick Ryan, consultant and creative producer on England Expects, spent six years amongst far right groups in the UK and Europe, and he introduced Deasy to a number of activists in the UK.


Deasy was surprised by how thin the veil of respectability was.


"Nick arranged meetings which always seemed to involve endless mobile phone calls, sudden changes of venue and general cloak-and-dagger activities.


"Yet, when we'd finally meet, people were amazingly open.

 

"Within minutes the conversations would turn from apparently reasonable concerns about housing allocation to extremely vicious, racist sentiments.


"It was perfectly obvious to me that it was these views that really motivated them.


"Since 9/11, far right groups have been gleefully stirring up people's insecurities and suspicions," continues Deasy.

 

"The atmosphere has enabled them continually to isolate and target Muslims and there's no question, if you track their magazines and leaflets, that Muslim groups have become almost entirely the focus of the far right venom.


"As I began to research the subject, I noticed that long before any big outbreak of rioting or violence there was a long history of barely-reported racist attacks on shops, homes and schools. I wanted to put a face to these anonymous window-breakers."


Thus the central character of Ray Knight, played by Steven Mackintosh, was born.

 

Ray is at first glimpse a responsible family man, separated but close to his ex-wife Sadie (Camille Corduri) and fiercely protective of his daughter Nikki (played by Sadie Thompson).


The cracks in his personality first become visible when he develops a sexual obsession with Alison (played by Susan Vidler), a trader in the Canary Wharf investment bank where he works as a security guard.


Around this time, he discovers that Nikki has been using heroin.


As Ray looks for someone to blame, he focuses on Assma (Preeya Kalidas), a Muslim neighbour who works at the bank, and her young brother Rashel (Sadiqul Islam).

England Expects Preeya Kalidas as Assma

 

Mackintosh also starred in Caleb's acclaimed drama Care, as a man trying to live a normal life after frequent abuse in a children's home.


He was drawn to England Expects by Caleb. "Ruth is never one to shy away from a controversial subject whilst never losing sight of the real human conflicts at the heart of the characters."


Mackintosh was also interested by the challenge of playing a character, "whose existence from the outset seems rather ordinary and mundane, yet when events around him seem to spiral out of his control, he begins to crack and eventually break down with devastating consequences.


"At the start of the story, Ray has a dark past that he has managed to leave behind to lead a controlled and disciplined life as a security guard. He is motivated by his need to protect his teenage daughter who is living with her mother on a run-down estate.


"It is his concern for her welfare and his loss of control when she gets into heroin that re-ignites his violent tendencies and causes him to re-visit his past.


"Ray has unresolved issues with his father which seem to bubble below the surface whenever they are together. He also has difficulty forming relationships with women, which frustrates him as it's another aspect of his life that he's unable to control."


Deasy explains: "Ray is consumed by fear. He becomes a walking timebomb, blaming other people, other races, other faiths, anonymous forces manipulating his life.


"Through Ray we experience the progression of his resentment and fear, the way he begins to indulge his darker side and its poisonous nature. Ultimately, we also witness the devastation that it wreaks."


From the moment Ray begins his ill-fated flirtation with Alison, he finds himself being drawn back to a past he has tried hard to leave behind.


When his path crosses that of Larry Knowles (Keith Barron), a smooth talking right-wing activist, his fate is sealed. Larry has plans for Ray.


For his own political reasons, he wants to stoke up the racial tension on the estate where Ray and his family live, but he miscalculates how much Ray has changed.


Deasy says the concept of a 'day-shift' and 'night-shift' on the far right - which the drama portrays - was something he came across during his research.


"In the months before the riots in Bradford, right wing activists were circulating leaflets like 'ISLAM - Intolerance, Slaughter, Looting, Arson and Molestation'.


"Asians and Asian families were attacked. The night before the riots, BNP leader Nick Griffin addressed a meeting in one of the key estates and the following day the National Front organised a parade through the city.


"That parade included known football hooligans and members of the neo-Nazi terrorist group, Combat 18.

 

"It culminated in an attack on a young Asian Muslim man, which eventually led to the night's violence."


This picture of a network of links between groups on the far right is one that Ryan also recognises from his extensive research.


"There are elements which cross over, they all know each other at the top," he says.

 

"These links are not just within the UK, they stretch much further afield into Europe, the Middle East and America.


"Many of the people I met on the far right were like Ray, in that they were all looking for something else to blame for their situation. The way they deal with things going wrong in their lives is by lashing out.

 

"Ray is looking for someone to blame for the fact that his daughter has got into drugs - he wants to blame anybody other than himself."


For director Tony Smith, England Expects is at heart a gripping thriller.


"It's very much Ray's personal story. It's not a documentary analysis of how the far right organises itself. Ray lives in a racially troubled area, is feeling the oppression of low earnings and bad housing, and has a sense of inadequacy and resentment.


"His story has an awful fascination - you don't want to look but you do. I hope audiences will be knocked back in their seats by the terrible power in this man."


England Expects is the first television drama in over 20 years to examine Britain's far right.


Smith believes this is because, "we tend to assume that we are a decent, dull, certainly not rabid, society. We always assume that most forms of extremism that bubble to the surface are temporary or isolated to a limited number of people.


"Therefore we get embarrassed by ourselves when we discover that statistically we are as likely to swing in extreme directions as most of our European neighbours."


Caleb agrees: "I think England Expects says that modern society is the same as it has always been - people's intolerance can lead them to peel away the layers of civilisation, a bit like in Lord of the Flies.


"What I hope it also says is that we all have to take responsibility for what happens in our society, and we should try to understand why people feel intolerant.


"The far right has grown and become more significant in the last few years and I think it comes down to all of us not to dismiss that."


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