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Exile: I want the story to be more than a thriller

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Danny Brocklehurst Danny Brocklehurst | 10:00 UK time, Sunday, 1 May 2011

Having worked with Paul Abbott on three successful series - Clocking Off, Linda Green and Shameless - we were keen to work together again.

I pitched him a modern-day Twilight Zone show, which he loved, but felt might be a tough sell.

Other ideas got banded around. A cop show. A romance. He smoked some fags, I drank some coffee until eventually Paul produced a short six or seven page document from deep inside a drawer.

It was entitled Exile and he said "Have a read".

Tom Ronstadt, played by John Simm, and Sam Ronstadt played by Jim Broadbent

It was a film pitch. It was set in America. It was about US politics. I liked it, but it was hard to see how it could fit onto a British TV screen.

However, at the heart of it was an intriguing father/son relationship. I am obsessed by father/son relationships and they are a recurring theme of my work. I was hooked.

The story needed a complete overhaul and, over the course of a few weeks, I set about storylining what would become the new version of Exile.

Storylining means working out the story, in acts and episodes. I tried to keep to the spirit of that original document whilst allowing it to take on a life of its own.

After leaving university, I'd worked as a journalist for a number of years, so Tom's world was one I knew and understood.

Draft one of the script included a 10 minute sequence where we saw Tom in the world of Ransom magazine: his lifestyle, his attitude and, ultimately, his downfall.

The BBC felt, quite rightly, that this was redundant. So now the story begins when he gets in his car and drives back north.

From day one, I wanted John Simm to play Tom. Partly because he was perfect for the role, but also because he is one of the best actors of our generation.

Whether it's The Lakes or Life On Mars or Never Never, if you see John Simm is attached, you know you are in for something brilliant.

As for Jim Broadbent, well, what can you say? The man's a star.

I remember watching him in Life Is Sweet when I was a student and loving his performance as a seemingly carefree father of problematic twins, and now here he is saying my words.

As for the supporting cast, we have been tremendously lucky to get such brilliant actors as Olivia Colman, Claire Goose, Timothy West and Shaun Dooley.

John Simm as Tom Ronstadt and Claire Goose as Mandy Eldridge.

The most difficult aspect of Exile, without question, was dealing with the Alzheimer's.

I've written about illness before so I understand the importance of getting it right.

I threw myself into research, as I wanted a realistic take on what it's like to live with someone who is in the middle stage of the disease - when their mind is deteriorating but at times, still accessible.

I think I got it right but, to help matters, our producer Karen Lewis, our brilliant director John Alexander, and Jim Broadbent himself, all have first hand experience, so collectively we have brought a breadth of knowledge to our depiction of the disease.

Despite dealing with huge themes, I always wanted Exile to be more than just a thriller. I wanted it to be funny and characterful and quirky.

All the shows I have loved over the years - Cracker, Our Friends In The North, State Of Play - have managed to combine serious themes with light relief.

So, for me, the scene where Tom hides from Mike in the supermarket and ends up having an argument with Spotty Shop Assistant is a very pleasing scene. It symbolises my ambitions for the drama.

My personal philosophy is to try and write entertaining, contemporary drama that speaks to people about their lives.

But more than that, I want to write drama that if I was a viewer, I'd want to watch too. So... modern day Twilight Zone anyone?

Danny Brocklehurst is the writer of Exile.

Exile is on BBC One and BBC One HD at 9pm on Sunday, 1 May.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    At last, no background music,can actually hear the speech and follow the story.
    More drama like this would be great. Thanks

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree that is was great to hear the words without straining through loud music.
    Jim Broadbent portrayed exactly the horrors of Alzheimer's disease. His totally
    "blank" look when he wanted to avoid a subject was exactly right. John Simm's chararcter reacted like most people who don't fully understand the illness.
    A gripping story - can't wait to see the outcome.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just wanted to congratulate Danny and the team on handling the subject of dementia so brilliantly. My father has it and watching Jim on screen was like watching Dad. It made be cry mostly but I laughed too - "When is there ever going to be a fire? "When someone in the house has alzheimers!" A very powerful drama, brilliant acting. Well done - can't wait to see part three tonight.

  • Comment number 4.

    It's funny that you mentioned 'Our Friends in the North' because I was suddenly reminded of it when I was watching Exile - I remember towards the end of the series Christopher Eccleston's character's Dad develops Alzheimer's Disease and there is a focus on the father-son relationship and how he persistently tries to help him remember the past. I am very fortunate in that I have not experienced first hand contact with Alzheimer's but this has made me begin to try to comprehend what sufferers and their families must go through. Congratulations on this fine drama.

  • Comment number 5.

    Just wanted to say I wanted to watch firstly because my dad has Alzheimer's and I enjoy all Danny Brocklehursts work. Watching Jim Broadbent act is like me watching my dad it is so realistically acted and very well researched into Alzheimer's. We are going through all the same situations with my dad. My dad also beat my teenage brother really bad in the 80s and it bought back all those memories like it was yesterday. I am looking forward to tonight but seeing the preview when Tommy pushes his head under the water, I think is going to upset me but will still watch.

  • Comment number 6.

    One of the best things I have seen for a very long time - just brilliantly written, directed and not a weak link in the cast. Special congratulations though to John Simm, Jim Broadbent and Olivia Colman.

  • Comment number 7.

    I always look forward to a drama involving John Simm's; for three nights I have been captivated, often holding tension, fear and laughter at the same time; a gripping mix of existential issues – as Tom painfully constructed his identity and origins, Sam his adoptive father lost his, but both in the final scene bonded through love. Superb acting from a brilliant cast – I cannot recall being captivated by a drama for three consecutive nights for a very, very long time. I’d also like to add what an accomplished and mature actor Clare Goose has become since her Casualty days. Brilliant all round! Thank you!

  • Comment number 8.

    Really enjoyed theses programs a lot well done the BBC you have been commissioning some great drama recently, back to the glory days I reckon keep up the good work, I love the music used in Excile I'd love to get hold of it, thanks again for three great nights of entrainment

  • Comment number 9.

    Real life drama that did not hold back. Fantastic performances from John Simm and Jim Broadbent and having experiences in caring for someone with alzheimers the suffering of the family showed through, with Olivia Colman playing this part so well. A brilliant three hours of television.

  • Comment number 10.

    Great production in the best BBC tradition with a strong cast and script. Top marks to Jim Broabent for his portrayal of dementia and for running through the snow in his vest and underpants. Pity about that snow, though. It seemed to appear and disappear from time to time. Worthy of a DVD, I think.

  • Comment number 11.

    The best production I have seen on BBC 1 for ages. Thought the writing and acting were very brave and convincing. The location and sets felt real. Several cuts above the norm. Many congratulations. [wasn't it lucky that the spare crash helmet fitted her brother?]

  • Comment number 12.

    Although I enjoyed this three-part series, I could not help feeling that it should have been four parts; an extra episode was necessary.
    At the denouement, the loose ends were tired up so quickly that there was little time for reflection. The character of Tulse was introduced, investigated and died; been gone and dunnit. He ought to have been slipped into the narrative earlier, possibly by being mentioned in passing, on the cassette-tape for instance. Thus he could have been pulled back in when the true horror of the story was dawning on Tom (and the viewer).
    Similarly, the fall from grace of Don Metzler was all too peremptory; one minute there is a tense stand-off between him and Tom, the next we see him being hounded by the press as he heads for his car. Presumably 'naming the devil' was successful, but I feel a little more story would have been useful. Close-ups of the Lancashire Post's headline front pages, perhaps?
    And similarly, the finishing of the tale with Tom's 'sister' and indeed Tom's potential future relationships and feasible career as a journalist in Lancashire; it could thus finish with a successful version of the beginning, where he storms away from his miserable London post, looking for his past, but ultimately finding a future.

    Could it be that this was not a director's cut, that it was edited somewhat by necessity of filling a particular slot? Or could the untimely death of Pete Postlethwaite played a part in the structure? Given that I heard he was destined for the role of Sam, and he only died in January, 'Exile' must have been shot on a pretty tight schedule.

  • Comment number 13.

    Excellent. Good to see a BBC1 drama which doesn't slavishly conform to genre conventions.

  • Comment number 14.

    Totally excellent. Amazing, gob smacking, heartbreaking. This is what we pay our licence fee for - more like this BBC. If this doesn't win BAFTA's (especially Broadbent) I'll eat my hat. I LOVED it. And everyone I speak to says the same.

  • Comment number 15.

    I've been anticipating this broadcast since reading a blurb about it in an interview in the Sheffield Telegraph this past September. Despite John Simm's description of this outstanding drama being 'under the radar' at the time, I certainly hope it doesn't remain so.

    I'm still assimilating this worthy project. It has surpassed my highest expectations!!
    A harrowing story,revealing corruption of the most evil kind, depicted brilliantly by all the players. My praise sounds weak, but amazingly enough, we find John centre of an outstanding drama and carrying it so very, very well.

  • Comment number 16.

    Unbelievable good. Truly outstanding television. I had to catch up on Iplayer because of the stripping so i watched in one night and it blew me away. John Simm really is the master...

  • Comment number 17.

    Quick question I need answering please!!...does anyone know the particular track playing at the start of episode 3 when John Simm is dancing in the club???
    Brilliant drama, amazing acting and powerful themes covered very well indeed.
    I loved this!

  • Comment number 18.

    Thank you all so much for your amazing comments. We have had an overwhelming reaction to Exile, so many positive comments and messages. We always try to produce drama which people like and respond to, but in this instance we seem to have achieved it fantastically.
    It's an amazing time for BBC drama right now - Exile, The Shadow Line, Crimson Petal, United, and still to come, The Hour and Night Watch on BBC2. This is a testament to the commitment of the BBC to invest in great drama, trust writers, producers and directors and most of all, take risks. Shows like Exile on BBC1 and Shadow Line on BBC2 are bold undertakings - and it is heartening to see audiences react so favourably.
    Thank you again for watching.
    Oh, and mandyrose74, I can't remember which track John was dancing to, but I'll attempt to find out...

    Danny x

  • Comment number 19.

    mandyrose74: The track was Cruel Intentions by Simian Mobile Disco. I'm not sure whether it was the original mix though, there's quite a number of different versions and remixes of that particular one.

    I would also like to express my thanks to everyone involved in the production of Exile. It was a gripping political thriller, but even more a very touching character drama. I liked the pacing of the series. Both dramas and thrillers need time to breathe, otherwise the atmosphere is lost, and the plot falls apart because there is no time to dive in, analyse the character's faces, follow one's own thoughts. Sadly this is a talent that has been somewhat lost over the past couple of years. I'm excited that with The Shadow Line and Exile I have within such a short time found two programmes which mastered this art, and I hope it is a trend that will continue. In Exile, there was so much going on while not a word was being sad. It was brilliantly written, brilliantly directed and edited, and brilliantly acted.

    Might I also express my wish for a high-definition release of the series. I am currently holding off on the DVD release in the hopes that it will be joined by a Blu-ray release soon.


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