Newspapers shredded in new BBC1 drama
David Suchet is to star as a newspaper press baron in a new BBC1 drama charting the competing fortunes of a liberal left broadsheet and a tabloid moving on from a phone-hacking scandal.
The six-part series, Press, is the work of the Doctor Foster and King Charles III writer Mike Bartlett who has promised a drama that interrogates why news is important and explores the ethical dilemmas reporters and editors face each day.
It is also a series that, he has hinted, will do little to improve the sometimes battered public image of journalists.
Bartlett’s tabloid is called the Post, his broadsheet the Herald. Suchet will play the CEO of the Post’s publisher.
Paapa Essiedu, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest Hamlet, plays the Post’s newest reporter; Shane Zaza, recently in the cast of the Royal Court’s revival of Road, its news editor; and Ellie Kendrick, Meera Reed in Game of Thrones, a junior reporter. Ben Chaplin will play the editor.
Two actors who appeared in Bartlett’s TV version of his play King Charles III will play Herald journalists. Charlotte Riley, who played Kate Middleton, plays the deputy news editor while Priyanga Burford plays the editor. Riley, who in real life is married to actor Tom Hardy, said Press was a “truly brilliant” piece of writing.
BBC drama controller Piers Wenger said: “The newspaper business is part of Britain’s identity and Mike’s gripping series of crusading journalists in this ever-changing industry, brought to life by a brilliantly talented cast, make for a fresh, thrilling and utterly British contemporary drama.”
It is a work of fiction but the Herald may not be a million miles from the Guardian given that Bartlett spent a day, three years ago, shadowing the paper’s newsdesk.
He has previously revealed snippets of what to expect. “I’d love to say it’s going to restore journalists’ reputations but I’m not convinced it will,” he told the Guardian.
“What it does do is interrogate why news is important and how we cover it.
“It’s also very much a workplace drama set in a very distinct workplace in a time of uncertainty. I know that people might expect the liberal left broadsheet are the heroes and boo the tabloid but it’s more complicated than that.”
TV has a long and patchy history of portraying journalists. The 1970s US drama Lou Grant made newspaper journalism look exciting and noble while Ken Barlow as editor of the Weatherfield Recorder in Coronation Street made it appear less so.
They are often written as obnoxious, overbearing, sleazy alcoholics which is why many journalists were pleased with Paul Abbott’s 2003 TV drama, State of Play, which gave a more realistic depiction.
Press will begin filming in October and air on BBC1 in 2018, then on PBS in the US.