Production commences on The Dresser starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen

To bring such incredible and world class talent together for The Dresser is testament to Ronald’s wonderful play which is as current and witty today as it was in 1980. With Anthony and Ian at the helm of the drama and such an array of supporting stars – the audience is in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat.Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning
Date: 03.03.2015     Last updated: 08.03.2015 at 19.57
Category: BBC Two; Drama
  • One of the great British plays about life in the theatre returns to the screen in Richard Eyre’s television adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser, starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen
  • Emily Watson, Sarah Lancashire and Edward Fox round out an all-star cast
  • Production commences filming in London, produced by Colin Callender’s Playground Entertainment and Sonia Friedman Productions for BBC Two and Starz

In the tradition of some of the great single dramas for British television, Colin Callender’s Playground Entertainment, Sonia Friedman Productions, BBC Two and Starz today announced the start of principal photography on the television adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play The Dresser.

The play tells the story of one fateful night in a small regional theatre during World War Two as a troupe of touring actors stage a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Bombs are falling, the sirens are wailing, the curtain is up in an hour but the actor/manager Sir who is playing Lear is nowhere to be seen. His dresser Norman must scramble to keep the production alive but will Sir turn up in time and if he does will he be able to perform that night?

The play brings together Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen working together on film for the first time. Both men were acclaimed for their own stage roles as Shakespeare’s great tormented king - Hopkins at The National Theatre under the direction of David Hare in 1986 and Ian McKellen in Trevor Nunn’s production for the RSC in 2007. The television film is directed by Richard Eyre who directed an award-winning production of the play with Ian Holm for the National Theatre in 1997.

Rounding out the stellar cast are Emily Watson (The Theory of Everything, War Horse) as 'Her Ladyship' and Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley, Last Tango In Halifax) as stage manager 'Madge'. Edward Fox, who appeared in the 1983 feature film adaptation of The Dresser, will star as 'Thornton'. Also in the cast, Vanessa Kirby as 'Irene', Tom Brooke as 'Oxenby/Edmond', John Ashton as 'Gloucester', Ian Conningham as 'Kent', Annalisa Rossi as 'Goneril', Helen Bradbury as 'Regan', Carl Sanderson as 'Cornwall', Matthew Cottle as 'Albany' and Martin Chamberlain as 'Gentleman'.

The play is one of the great portraits of life in the theatre. It was first adapted for the screen by Harwood himself 32 years ago in the 1983 Peter Yates film starring Albert Finney and Tom Courteney. The current production reverts to Ronald Harwood’s original text and presents the play as it was written for the stage.

Colin Callender, Executive Producer for Playground Entertainment, says: “There is a long, rich tradition of British television honouring the text of the great British play and presenting audiences with virtuoso renditions of them on the screen as the playwright originally wrote them. The single drama is an endangered species in both film and television and this production is a harking back to the great days of Play for Today and testament to the commitment of the BBC and Starz to bring quality drama to the screen. It is also testament to the enduring power of Ronald Harwood’s glorious writing that we have been able to bring together such a wonderful creative team from the worlds of film, television and the theatre.”

Ben Stephenson, Controller of BBC Drama Commissioning, adds: “To bring such incredible and world-class talent together for The Dresser is testament to Ronald’s wonderful play, which is as current and witty today as it was in 1980. With Anthony and Ian at the helm of the drama and such an array of supporting stars – the audience is in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat.”

The Dresser is produced by Colin Callender of Playground Entertainment with Sonia Friedman for Sonia Friedman Productions. Polly Hill, BBC Head of Independent Drama and Ben Stephenson, Controller of BBC Drama Commissioning, are executive producers.

The Dresser was commissioned by Ben Stephenson on behalf of BBC Drama and BBC Arts, and Kim Shillinglaw for BBC Two as part of the BBC’s theatre season.

The drama will shoot in and around London and will transmit later this year on BBC Two.

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