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Russell T Davies on his new BBC One drama 'Years and Years'

Russell T Davies

Writer, Producer, Showrunner

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Years and Years began on BBC One on Tuesday 14th May and on BBC iPlayer. The writer Russell T Davies explains why, despite the drama's often dark subject matter, that the real heart of it is about family, and how as humans we're hard-wired to laugh, even in the darkest times.

Watch the trailer for Years and Years

You said you have been thinking of writing Years and Years for over ten years, why now?

It’s been boiling away in my mind for a long time, but over the past few years the world itself seems to have been boiling faster and hotter and wilder than ever. I mean, the age, today, just seems fevered - we’re either more political, or more scornful of politics, than ever. And I think, in the past, politics meant the economy to most people, but now we’re seeing that it’s our identity at stake. So I had to write this fast, before someone else did! And we’re transmitting it as fast as we can before the stuff in the script actually happens!

Why do you think it was important to base this story around one family?

That’s the heart of it. In the end, it’s a TV drama, and people tune in for characters and to see actors we love. We want to see them falling in and out of love, to see parents and children surviving what’s thrown at them, to see friendships across decades. People might talk about the politics of Years and Years, but it’s the people who will get you watching.

Daniel (RUSSELL TOVEY), Ruby (JADE ALLEYNE), Edith (JESSICA HYNES), Rosie (RUTH MADELEY), Muriel (ANNE REID), Stephen (RORY KINNEAR), Celeste (T'NIA MILLER), Bethany (LYDIA WEST) (Image Credit: BBC/Red Productions/Guy Farrow)

What challenges do you face when writing each episode years apart?

Every episode tends to move on a year, so as a writer that comes with certain problems. You can’t always cliffhang out of a story, because the next scene will be a year later! But the one-year-later device is becoming very popular in modern drama, and with widespread streaming and binge-watching, we’re all becoming very familiar it. Part of the point is to show that for a family, one year later is basically the same.

You’ve mentioned that you are not trying to predict the future with this story but what’s your favourite of the ideas you had for our society over the next 15 years?

Well my favourite is happening already, and that’s the Whatsapp group. Especially the family group. It’s transforming family life, right in front of my eyes. I’ve got nieces and nephews aged from 21 to 29, and a few years ago, much as I love them, I’d only text them twice a year, birthday and Christmas. But we opened up a family group, and now 20 or 30 texts fly between us every night. Technology has made us closer. And I’ve shown this with the Lyons family - they’re an extraordinarily close-knit bunch because they all talk to each other all the time. And I’ve dramatised that fully – I can guarantee, some of those group conversations are truly shocking!

Watch a clip from Episode 1 of Years and Years. Stephen and Celeste grapple with their modern technology-driven daughter, as Bethany continues to defiantly communicate with them from behind her real-life face filter.

There are some very touching and funny moments within the series, why is this an important aspect of the story?

I can’t write more than six lines without putting in a gag. Honestly, it’s in-built. It’s how I talk, too, I am hard-wired to find the joke, anywhere. My mum was the same, her running joke was to go to a funeral and say to someone, “I thought I’d been to yours". So that’s the way I write. And I think it’s very human, I think we have a laugh to survive, to cope, to express our love. And I wanted this to be a warm, hopeful series - some terrible things happen to the Lyons, but they live and they love and they find ways to survive.

What do you think the audience will think about the Lyons family?

I hope they embrace them. I hope they feel like they’ve found companions, in coping with this mad old world. And really, it’s all about the cast. How lucky am I? If you had just one of these actors you’d have a lead for a BBC One drama. But we’ve got tons of them! In a brilliant ensemble. I can’t believe we got them all, and I think people will love them.

Vivienne Rook (EMMA THOMPSON) in Years and Years (Image Credit: BBC/Red Productions/Guy Farrow)

Tell us about why Vivienne Rook is important to the drama?

The series follows the Lyons family, while in the background huge shifts in politics and the very nature of Great Britain take shape. So that rising tide needs a figurehead. It needs to be personal, it needs a name and a face and a character. Enter Mrs Rook! And when you make her one of Britain’s finest actors, then the whole idea ignites. I hope people will be fascinated by Viv. She’s a maverick, she’s a danger, she’s a wildcard. And she’s also very, very clever - much cleverer than she first appears.

How close do you think we really are from this world you created?

I can guarantee that the real world will always be stranger, madder, darker, but hopefully better than anything we can predict.

Watch the trailer for episode 3 of Years and Years

What do you think or want the audience to take away from this story?

The characters. The people. I hope we’ve got some insights into society, and politics, and technology, but that’s irrelevant compared to good characters. And when you’re lucky enough to have Anne Reid presiding over some truly great actors as her family brood, I hope that’s the thing to remember. Life with the Lyons.

You’ve worked with Red Production Company many times before, why do you think you work so well together?

I got lucky! With Nicola Shindler and her team, we just click. Which also means never taking it easy. After all these years I’m still terrified to hand in a script to Nicola, because I’d hate to let her down. So that keeps me on my toes. And she’s created a world of trust in which you feel capable of saying anything. That’s truly creative. We’re just about to start our tenth production together, and I hope we have dozens more!

Watch Years and Years on BBC One on Tuesdays at 9pm and on BBC iPlayer

Read an interview with Russell T Davies from our 2016 Writers' Festival - packed with advice

Watch an interview with Nicola Shindler, the founder and Chief Executive of Red Production Company

Read Russell T Davies scripts including Doctor Who and A Very English Scandal

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