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
"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,"
"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
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
Recent credits include the critically acclaimed Casanova
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.