line up for modern retelling of The Canterbury Tales for BBC ONE
"The Tales are the most fantastic stories full of comedy,
tragedy and the full range of human emotions." Kate Bartlett,
producer of The Canterbury Tales
Tales has gathered together an outstanding cast which includes Julie
Walters, James Nesbitt, Om Puri, John Simm, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Paul
Nicholls, Dennis Waterman, Keeley Hawes, Billie Piper, Indira Varma,
Andrew Lincoln and Jonny Lee Miller, in six single dramas for BBC
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales are retold for a modern audience
by some of Britain's best known contemporary writers (Tony Marchant,
Peter Bowker, Sally Wainwright and Tony Grounds) as well as two
writers new to television drama (Olivia Hetreed and Avie Luthra)
in one of the most ambitious adaptations undertaken by the BBC.
of the tales is updated to the 21st century and set along the pilgrims'
route to Canterbury.
journey begins in Southwark, going on through Gravesend, Rochester
and Chatham to Canterbury.
two of the executive producers, Laura Mackie and Franc Roddam, their
Canterbury Tales journey began in spring 2001 in Phoenix, Arizona,
when they were looking for locations for Auf Wiedersehen Pet.
were held up in Roy's Bar until the snow storms cleared over the
Grand Canyon," says Roddam.
had just taken over from Jane Tranter as Head of Drama Serials and
I told Franc about the projects we were developing and that we were
looking for a piece that reflected life in the new century,"
is a brilliant ideas man and he mentioned The Canterbury Tales and
what enduring stories they were. We discussed how it might be possible
to update them to the present day and that sowed the seed of the
diversity of characters in the Tales reveals everyone's vanity and
false humility and the morality of life in the 14th century,"
recognise with this retelling that the 21st century is no different
from the 14th in that human weakness plays havoc with the human
heart and that there is still room for us to wise up.
wanted the new season of tales to entertain but also give us a little
kick in the butt."
Laura Mackie returned from Arizona and discussed the idea with Jane
Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, the response she
received was to "aim high".
once Mackie had signed the producer Kate Bartlett, the process of
choosing which tales to adapt and the writers to update them began
really grabbed the concept and drove it with great energy,"
says Mackie. "We got together a wish list of established writers
and also some newer writers.
was a vital element of the mix because I believe it's important
that new writers are given a chance to work on original concepts
as well as on returning series.
wanted to have a good mix of stories," says Mackie, "so
we balanced some of the saucier, more comedic tales with the more
serious and darker stories.
also wanted to match those tales with the different writers' strengths.
For example, Peter Bowker is brilliant at comedy so we sent him
The Miller's Tale, while Tony Marchant is wonderful at darker, more
emotionally charged territory.
wanted to make sure we had a range of different stories so that
each one felt unique whilst at the same time complementing each
Kate Bartlett, remaining as faithful to the original themes as possible
was crucial to the overall concept.
wanted to be as faithful to the stories and spirit of the Tales
as possible and we have tried to achieve that.
not issue-based reality dramas. We often had to introduce sub-plots
and secondary stories because we always wanted the dramas to work
on two levels.
had to appeal to those more familiar with Chaucer but also work
in their own right as single films, to an audience unfamiliar with
Chaucer, and this was important to all of us.
Tales are the most fantastic stories full of comedy, tragedy and
the full range of human emotions," says Kate Bartlett.
stories embody the timeless themes of love, lust, greed, power,
anger and bigotry – these emotions are as relevant today as
they were 600 years ago.
characters too are timeless. The Wife of Bath, for example, is a
wonderful, feisty, bawdy, independent woman who is very much alive
and living in the 21st century. Society might have changed, but
human emotions and characters have not."
a year in development and armed with the scripts finally ready for
shooting, Bartlett began searching for directors and a cast that
would carry the tales to the screen.
always wanted to be ambitious with the casting," says Mackie.
"Because each film involved a short commitment of two or three
weeks, we were able to attract top-class artists like Julie Walters,
Jimmy Nesbitt, Om Puri and Jonny Lee Miller, as well as some terrific
new talent like Nikki Amuka-Bird and Billie Piper.
six films offer very different viewing experiences," says Mackie.
"Some will appeal to audiences who like comedy drama while
others will appeal to an audience who want a more challenging narrative.
the audience will be drawn to one for a particular piece of casting
or storyline and come back for more."
Kate Bartlett, the whole experience of making six contemporary,
individual, single films has been an extraordinary challenge.
shoot was completely and utterly different with a new cast for each
film and four different directors and crews.
tale was set in a different location, so filming ranged from the
amazing experience of townships in South Africa to the harsh reality
of Wandsworth prison, from historic Rochester Cathedral to a run-down
challenge of making six films, each scripted by a distinctive and
original writer, with a strong and individual directorial style
for each film, was hard work but incredibly exciting and rewarding,"
ultimately we have to thank Chaucer for writing such good stories
600 years ago."
Tales is produced by Kate Bartlett (The Stretford Wives).
directors are Julian Jarrold, John McKay, Marc Munden and Andy De
executive producers are Laura Mackie, Franc Roddam and Sally Haynes.
Tales starts on BBC ONE on Thursday 11 September at 9.00pm with
The Miller's Tale.
Tales press pack is available below in PDF
may require Adobe Acrobat Software to read PDF files which can be
for users: when in the PDF files use the "Zoom In"
tool to magnify the text.
Miller's Tale (482 KB)
Knight's Tale (811 KB)
Information about The Knight's Tale is also available in sections
Tale and Credits (319 KB)
Interview with Tony Marchant (272
• Cast interviews (358 KB)
Pardoner's Tale (588 KB)
Wife of Bath (645 KB)
Sea Captain's Tale (1.06 MB)
about The Sea Captain's Tale is also available in sections
Tale and Credits (331 KB)
with Avie Luthra (280 KB)
interviews (600 KB)
Man of Law's Tale (688 KB)
writing with BBC ONE's Canterbury Tales (189
get the opportunity to have their stories read on Radio 4 by members
of the cast (07.07.03)
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