The unusual mix of character-led family drama and crime thriller that is ITV’s new prime time series Flesh and Blood was not writer/creator’s original vision for the show, but that’s fine by her.
Sarah Williams, who had previously gained renown for adaptations and had never before written a TV thriller, was focused on the love/hate family dynamic before a conversation with Silverprint Pictures creative director Kate Bartlett who had asked her to come up with an idea for a joint project.
“At the start, I wanted to get to the heart of that thing you have with your family, where you’re full of love and support for them, but they can also wind you up and find your weak points,” Williams told an RTS Q&A session following an exclusive screening of the first episode.
But Barlett saw that, for all the richness of the family drama ideas, there was no strong plotline, so Williams added a crime element.
“(The script) needed a big event and, although I don’t think of myself as a natural thriller writer, I thought that if, at the very beginning, we knew something bad had happened, that would keep the viewer’s mind spinning ahead,” said the writer.
The next unanticipated change in Williams’s creative journey was the introduction of a totally new character, Mary, a neighbour of the family at the core of her story who would eventually be played by Imelda Staunton on screen.
For Bartlett, Mary’s creation was a lightbulb moment for the script: “She only had a couple of scenes at the start, but every time she appeared it was gold dust. So, it was obvious we needed more Mary.”
Then there was ITV’s vision of Flesh and Blood in just four episodes, again something that Williams had not expected – she first saw the idea as a longer, ongoing series.
“ITV’s request for a four-parter was good for me. Once that came, things moved faster. It took almost four years to write episode one, but two, three and four came quickly.”
The writer also gives thanks to ITV for two other reasons. Firstly, stripping the four episodes over consecutive evenings made it ‘event’ television and, secondly, she believes: “In the end, ITV took a risk on my idea - even without any scripts - even when it didn’t automatically fit into their genres. They knew that and still went with us.”
The Flesh and Blood RTS screening and question and answer session took place at London’s Curzon Cinema on 20 February. The panellists were interviewed by journalist and broadcaster Emma Bullimore and a full report will be published in the March edition of Television magazine.