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24 September 2014
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To The Ends Of The Earth
On the set of To The  Ends of the Earth

William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The Earth' - starts Wednesday 6 July at 9.00pm on BBC TWO



Benedict Cumberbatch and Sam Neill star in a major adaptation, coming to BBC TWO in July


To The Ends of the Earth, a major adaptation of Nobel Prize winner William Golding's classic sea trilogy, is brought to life for BBC TWO this summer.


Starring Bafta-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch - following his acclaimed performance as cosmologist Stephen Hawking in Hawking - and Sam Neill, whose many credits include Jurassic Park and The Piano, the drama also stars Jared Harris, who starred as Henry VIII in The Other Boleyn Girl; Victoria Hamilton, who played the young queen in Victoria and Albert; Joanna Page, whose credits include Love Actually and Mine All Mine; Charles Dance; and Cheryl Campbell.


Adapted by the late Leigh Jackson and Tony Basgallop, To The Ends Of The Earth is a modern masterpiece by one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century.


It comprises three 90-minute films based on Rites of Passage, Close Quarters and Fire Down Below.


David Attwood (May 33rd, Hound of the Baskervilles, Moll Flanders) directs.


To The Ends Of The Earth is an intimate journey on an epic scale, charting in dazzling and visceral detail the rite of passage of Edmund Talbot, a young English aristocrat, as he experiences life on board a passenger ship making its hazardous sea voyage from England to Australia in the early nineteenth century.


BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, Jane Tranter, says: "To The Ends of the Earth is a spectacular and hugely ambitious landmark drama, which will feel both very modern and radically different.


"It aims to take the nation on an epic journey from one side of the globe to the other and, in so doing, it will tell the most extraordinary story about human nature."


BBC Head of Drama Series and Serials, Laura Mackie says: "William Golding uses the world of the ship as a modern microcosm in which to explore the themes of human obsession, love and guilt, and our capacity both for self-delusion and brutality.


"It's no coincidence that it's set at the beginning of a new century: this is a haunting tale with an absurdist, blackly comic edge.


"The prospect of their destination fills Talbot and his fellow travellers with a hope that allows most of them to survive - but this is contrasted with an ever-present sense of danger and a fear of imminent death."


It's taken six years to bring this epic drama series to the screen and David Attwood was involved from the very beginning.


He said: "I read the first book, Rites of Passage, in 1980 and I remember thinking then, 'God, some mad idiot might try and make a film of this and it would be almost impossible to do'.


"But when the BBC sent me all three books in 1999 and asked if I'd be interested, I said yes.


"I liked the ineffable bigness of William Golding as a novelist. It's a mature and intelligent piece of writing that can be funny, ribald, sexy, mad, violent and dangerous.


"It is all those things, but it is also an examination of what people do to each other in a claustrophobic situation. It's an epic, but at the heart of it is an extremely detailed and microscopic view of human nature."


William Golding, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1983, is probably best known for his world-famous novel Lord of the Flies. He wrote his sea trilogy at the end of his life. He had an all-encompassing knowledge of the sea and it could be said the sea was in his blood, having been a naval commander during the Second World War, after which he became a passionate amateur sailor. He also lived by the sea.


The late Leigh Jackson took on the difficult task of adapting these great novels for the screen.


"It was a great partnership with Leigh and it was an absolute tragedy that he fell ill while we were working together and he subsequently died," says Attwood.


"He had done a massive amount of work on the first film and quite a lot on the second and third. He was still working hard at it up until the last week of his life, with incredible tenacity, courage and amazing humour.


"He loved this project and he wanted it to carry on. We turned to Tony Basgallop, with whom Hilary Salmon and I worked on Summer in the Suburbs. He brought his own significant contribution and his own individual voice.


"I think Leigh would have been very happy with what Tony has done and in fact, they could have worked together. It was a singular tragedy that Leigh died and we dedicated the three films to him because they were very much in the sprit of Leigh Jackson."


Attwood's qualifications for bringing a sea epic to the screen don't only extend to his considerable abilities as a director.


"I've been across the Atlantic about seven times: I've done cargo ships and I've crewed on yachts. The journey itself is just an extraordinary thing to do, in all weathers, so from the very smallest boats to quite large ships I've been in quite big storms and I don't think I'd ever seen them portrayed accurately.


"The sea is unpredictable and difficult and changeable, all the things that filming hopefully isn't."


One of the many problems that Attwood and the production team had to face was building the ship, which did not exist.


"I sat down with Donal Woods, our production designer, and we discussed how we were going to make the ship. This kind of ship was built 'by the yard', like Morris Minors or Minis. Churned off a conveyor belt in the 1760s, at a time when the navy needed a vast amount of ships.


"Golding was very specific about what kind of ship it was, what size and how many guns it would have carried when it was a war ship - a 74-gun third rate ship of the line. I found the drawings of a similar ship and we said 'we will build this ship'."


It was not possible to build the entire ship and it had to be built in stages. Together, Attwood and Woods designed a whole deck, the deck of a second ship, all the various cabins, the passenger saloon, the Captain's state room and the hold for the emigrants, sailors and supplies.


"We then had to find a way of making it move, to make it appear as if it's at sea," continues Attwood. "The best way of doing that was putting in all on water and then there followed the whole practicalities of how you'd achieve that."


It was eventually achieved by putting the two boats on pontoons and in an astonishing feat of craftsmanship, the audience will probably feel they are on the boat with the passengers.


The disparate group of passengers in Golding's tale, crossing from one side of the world to another in an old boat "which renders like an old boot" was not easy to cast.


"It was a difficult and long process." says Attwood. "It's a large cast, of very specific and well-drawn characters. The novels are centred on Edmund Talbot. Golding doesn't 'dumb down' or patronise his readers, he tells you what you need to know and it's all written from the point of view of Edmund.


"We found Benedict Cumberbatch fairly early. We needed a very good actor, someone young enough to be believable as an aristocrat; an almost slightly dislikeable character who is an adolescent in terms of his view of the world, his upbringing.


"But equally we needed someone who could hold the screen for four and half hours, in every scene. We needed someone with experience who was not only a very, very good actor, but also with terrific comic timing. Benedict was the ideal answer to that.


Says producer Lynn Horsford: "Benedict was remarkable. He carried the Golding novels with him on set and constantly referred to them. We needed him every single day and he just didn't stop, nor complain.


"He simply became Edmund Talbot. And that commitment spread to every cast member. The process of making these films echoed the journey the characters went on in the story - we really got to know each other during that four months on location and we became very close."


The decision on where to film was crucial to the success of the dramas. British unpredictable and mostly inclement weather was not viable, especially when it was necessary to create the illusion that the boat is crossing from the northern to the southern hemisphere.


"If you're doing a Boys' Own story it doesn't matter whether it's raining or calm," says Attwood, "But in To The Ends of the Earth the weather and what happens to the ship is integral to what happens to the characters.


"One of the things I needed to have as director was control of the weather, which of course is the most difficult thing to control."


Weather control was part of the reason in deciding to film in South Africa, where the location of Richard's Bay Harbour, two and half hours north of Durban, was chosen.


"A lot of this story happens near the equator or in the doldrums, south of the equator. We needed calm weather and some sunshine, but we also needed storms and all the variations you get of weather at sea - drizzle, grey days, choppy days, channel weather, big ocean swells. They all have an effect on the story.


"So although it seems a crazy and megalomaniac to say 'I've got to be in charge of the weather on this', that had to be part of our thinking."


Things didn't go quite as planned, as Lynn Horsford recalls.

"In fact, we experienced some of the worst weather they'd had for years - even making headlines in the local press - and that had a big impact on our schedule. We were in a very beautiful location, but filming at sea is always a nightmare. The sea is either too rough or too still. Just getting the cast and crew and all our equipment on the ship each day was a major operation."


Attwood concludes: "I think people want to see intelligent drama and intelligent television, and I make no apologies for that. I've also compared this to Big Brother, and it is in a way. Our characters are confined in a claustrophobic atmosphere and you get to know them intensely over an elongated period of time.


"Thanks to Golding, they are people in whom you have a strong and opinionated interest. They are worried whether they are going to survive the journey, survive the storms, have to fight a sea battle, go to war. Are they going to be seasick for nine months, are they going to die? It's really Big Brother taken to the nth degree.


"But the characters are a wonderful cross section of a lot of different aspects of British and European society and in them we see ourselves. In To The Ends of the Earth we see the best and worst aspects of human nature."


Production details and credits


To The Ends of the Earth is a BBC/Power co-production in association with Tightrope Pictures.


The executive producers are Head of Drama Series and Serials Laura Mackie and Hilary Salmon (BBC); Justin Bodle (Power); and Paul Abbott and Hilary Bevan Jones (Tightrope).


Justin Bodle, Chief Executive of Power, says: "To The Ends of the Earth is event television in its purest sense, an ambitious production that brings together a highly respected team that have the talent and tools to realise William Golding's vision magnificently on screen."


Leigh Jackson's credits include BBC ONE's Prix Italia award-winning Warriors, about British UN peace-keepers in Bosnia; and The Project, which analysed New Labour's rise to power and the landslide election victory of 1997.


Tony Basgallop wrote Summer In The Suburbs and Residents.


Producer Lynn Horsford's credits include Swallow and Never Never, written by Tony Marchant, and Prime Suspect V.


Power has been distributing television programming internationally for the past ten years and co-producing feature-film quality mini-series format for the past three years out of the UK, Canada and Australia.


Recent credits include the critically acclaimed Casanova and Archangel for the BBC, and Colditz and the award-winning Henry VIII for ITV. The next BBC/Power co-production will be The Virgin Queen, starring Anne-Marie Duff in the title role as Elizabeth 1.


Tightrope Pictures was formed in late 2003 out of the successful ongoing collaboration between the multi award-winning writer Paul Abbott (Shameless, State Of Play) and drama producer Hilary Bevan Jones (May 33rd, State Of Play).


To the Ends of the Earth was Tightrope's first collaboration as executive producers with the BBC.


The Girl in the Cafe, written by Richard Curtis and starring Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald, is to be their third production which will air on BBC ONE this year.



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