David Morrissey talks about his starring role in a new TV adaptation of China Miéville’s novel The City & The City – a story he says is profoundly relevant to urban life today
THE City & The City is a four-part genre-busting thriller adaptated for BBC Two from the mind-bending 2009 novel by China Miéville, one of Britain’s foremost fantasy writers.
When the body of a foreign student is discovered in the streets of the downat-heel city of Beszel, it’s just another day’s work for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad (David Morrissey). But he uncovers evidence that the murdered girl came from Ul Qoma, a city that shares a dangerous and volatile relationship with Beszel – and this case will challenge everything Borlú holds dear.
David Morrissey admits he had great affection for his character Tyador Borlú and missed him once filming concluded.
He says: “I really liked him a lot and the idea that he was a man at odds with both the worlds he was trying to find himself in. He was lost, really, and I had great affection for that.”
On the premise of the unique drama, the actor explains: “The concept is strange, it is a detective story told in this city, which is actually two cities that share the same footprint, but there are very strict regulations about the fact that one city cannot see the other city’s populace, they can’t look there, they can’t acknowledge them or interact with them, and that creates all sorts of strange rules. Inside there is a secret police force called Breach and they are there to make sure that nobody breaks those laws of interacting between the cities.
“I play a copper in one of the cities, Beszel, and a body is discovered there and a girl has been murdered. Over the course of the investigation we realise that she may have been murdered in the other city and brought over so I have to go over to Ul Qoma, and find out what has happened to this girl. So it is a fish out of water tale, it is a man who has to go into another city and abide by their rules even though he is not used to that. The audience will have to get used to the rules but once they do, there is something quite fun about seeing how these two worlds are realised.”
And what drew David to this character?
“He is a man living in a world in which he is very happy, as long as the rules are concerned, but he also has a real sense of loss about him. Something has happened to him in the past and it has closed him off and really thrown him. He is quite a locked-up person and during the investigation, the thing that is really torturing him starts to come back. So you realise that the case he is on has a deep, personal meaning to him. He is pursuing this girl’s killer but also his own past and trying to make sense of what has happened to him.”
Borlú has working relationships with two policewomen, one in each city, played by Maria Schrader and Mandeep Dhillon.
“In his own world he has a junior colleague, Corwi, played by Mandeep, and that is a great relationship. She is very ballsy, cheeky, you feel she is trying to get him to lighten up and crack a smile.
“When he goes into the other world he has to become subordinate to another police officer called Dhatt and she is the boss. Ul Qoma is a very militarised world, there are lots of guns, their uniforms are very military, and so he has to abide by her rules and play second fiddle, which he finds very difficult. But I loved working with both of them – they were fantastic, very different actresses in a way but both really great to work with.”
David is convinced citydwelling audiences will find this story relevant to their lives today.
“There is a massive relevance… here is a story about one group of people living in a city who are denying the existence of another group of people living in the same city. The conceit is that what China has done is say that it is a different city completely, but I think we don’t have to look too far in our major cities to see how people have ghettoised themselves or are living in gated communities, and we walk past people begging and sleeping on the streets and we have become blind to that. We see people in our very own streets living in terrible conditions and we have decided to ignore it and our eyes are turned down.
“We are more and more on our screens and in denial about the world around us, and I think The City & The City is taking that type of modern notion and accentuating it to a heightened level, but I don’t think it is too far a stretch of the imagination from how we live in our cities today.”
The City and the City in on Friday, April 6 on BBC Two at 9pm.
David Morrissey as Tyador Borlu in The City & the City