A real pride of lions, filmed on the plains of Africa, become the characters
in a magical and dramatic tale of love and survival in Pride,
an ambitious new family film for BBC ONE this Christmas.
Kate Winslet heads the cast of celebrated international talent
as the voice of the young, rebellious Suki;
Sean Bean as Dark, her dangerous yet magnetic suitor;
Rupert Graves as her cowardly brother Linus;
Helen Mirren as Suki's mother Macheeba, the wise matriarch of
John Hurt as the baddie Harry;
Martin Freeman as Fleck, who is adopted by Macheeba when his
Robbie Coltrane and Jim Broadbent as the old comedy duo
of the pride;
and Kwame Kwei-Armah as Lush.
John Downer (who made the acclaimed documentaries Lions: Spy In The
Den and Elephants: Spy In The Herd) is one of the world's most prominent
natural history film makers.
He has teamed up with leading television writer Simon Nye (Men Behaving
Badly, How Do You Want Me and Beast) to create the captivating live
Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, says: "Pride,
like The Canterbury Tales, is part of a growing slate of original, ambitious
pieces for BBC ONE that work alongside our new and established popular
"It fuses the BBC's core strengths with our desire to extend drama
into new areas."
John Downer was inspired with the idea of making a drama with talking
lions when he was filming his acclaimed documentary Lions: Spy In The
With his famous 'bouldercam', a mobile camera hidden in a rock, he
witnessed virtually human qualities in the pride family of lions and
realised this could make a unique drama.
"I came up with the idea about four and half years ago. This genre
is a completely new thing for television, in the manner of Babe, using
real animals and pioneering animation techniques," says John Downer.
Downer goes on to say: "The main story focuses on a pride of lions,
fantastic unique animals, who live in human-type set ups.
"They defend each other and form allegiances. It's more biologically
accurate than The Lion King, and the starting point is natural history.
"With the aid of computer manipulated images as well as some 'habituated
lions',* Pride depicts the almost human traits of real lions in a close
"I brought writer Simon Nye on board because he's brilliant at
humour and dialogue, which needed to be sharp and funny.
"Together we developed a story of family, love and loyalty which
are tested in a conflict with another pride of marauding wanderers over
ultimate control of the Pride lands."
Simon Nye, best known for penning sharp comedies but also responsible
for bringing the cherished children's series The Railway Children and
Pollyanna to television, understands the need for engaging family programmes.
Nye says: "I've got four children so I wanted to write something we
could all sit down and enjoy together.
"Originally I thought I would just get some footage to look at
and give the lions amusing things to do, with their mouths vaguely moving,
or give them dialogue with their backs to camera.
"It became a much bigger and more Hollywood thing than I first
thought and it was quite daunting.
"The appeal of a film like this is that it is so new and so different.
I thought that if I took a hugely wrong creative decision there's going
to be a lot of people sitting round in the savannah thinking 'what are
we doing here?'
"We were trying to combine two quite difficult things, an element
of slick storytelling, because that's what children want, wrapped up
in an authentically true-to-life package.
"We wanted it to appeal to all ages and all sensibilities.
"Humour is very important, it's a binding thing and children obviously
love to see animals doing funny things, like falling off logs.
"We had to keep lots of things happening and give the film great
visual appeal, which wasn't hard when you're filming in Africa."
The project attracted an extraordinary list of international star names.
Says Downer: "It was a coup to get Kate Winslet, an Oscar-nominated
international movie star who doesn't do television, but this is not
normal television. It was a chance to do something different.
"A big factor at the time was that she was having another child
and she was concerned that most of the things she's acting in aren't
things her children will want to see, or that she'd want them to see.
"She did it because it was something she could show her children."
Helen Mirren is another actress not known for her roles in family films.
Continues Downer: "Helen was the first person we signed and recorded
and she immediately put down a performance that was the backbone of
"When I had my first meeting with her she felt passionately that
Macheeba should be tough and she does tough really well.
"Playing in our favour was the fact that a lot of the actors have got
"In the case of Robbie Coltrane, he said 'when my kids saw the
promo tape they said, if you don't do this I won't talk to you dad.
You've got to do it'.
"Kids were very helpful in that way! Every step on Pride was a
challenge as nothing really like it had every been done before.
"Things like Babe are a long way from what we were trying to
do on Pride.
"Basically the lions do what lions do naturally and we were feeding
into their behaviour, working out how we could utilise that behaviour
to tell the story we were trying to tell.
"Filming was like filling in a massive jigsaw, and throughout
I kept the script in my head so that I could shoot footage that would
later match up."
Two years in the Serengeti and 600 hours of footage later, Downer and
his team had to edit a film which matched Nye's script.
They used the talents of Jim Henson's world-renowned company to make
the lions talk.
John Downer says: "Henson's had to develop the most advanced techniques
to make the animals talk.
"A team of over 30 people worked solidly for nine months to create
our talking lions and they've done a fantastic job.
"Initially when you see the lions talking it takes a moment to
adjust, but after a few minutes you don't think twice and seeing them
speaking comes naturally."
Such is the success of Pride that John Downer is already thinking of
He says: "We already have one planned. It's a technique which has a
lot of potential and the next film will feature more talking animals
in their natural habitat.
"It'll be something to look forward to for Christmas 2007."
Concludes Nye: "Pride has a compelling story and although you want
people to primarily enjoy the film, there is a serious aspect to the
"You want people to love these animals because they are dying
out and you want to raise children's sensibilities to how magnificent
these creatures are."
Pride is a BBC and A&E Networks co-production, in association with
ProSieben and John Downer Productions.
The director is John Downer, the producer is Christopher Hall (The
Hound Of The Baskervilles, The Lost World and Young Visiters), and the
executive producers are John Downer, Simon Curtis, Laurie Mackie, Head
of BBC Drama Serials, and Delia Fine for A&E.
The world-renowned Jim Henson's Creature Shop is responsible for the
For further information on the star-studded cast and to watch an exclusive
preview clip of Pride visit bbc.co.uk/pride.
Note to Editors
*Habituated lions have been brought up by trained animal handlers.
They are not tame and live in surroundings that are authentic to them.
They do not do tricks, they are just used to being around certain experienced
They remain wild and dangerous animals.