A DIS­COV­ERY OF WITCHES

NEW FAN­TASY SHOW A DIS­COV­ERY OF WITCHES IS MADE FOR OUR TROU­BLED TIMES, AS STEVE O’BRIEN FINDS OUT ON SET…

SFX - - Contents -

Deb­o­rah Hark­ness’s best­selling tales of sor­cery and vam­pirism are com­ing to TV. We go where the magic hap­pens.

As love sto­ries go, a pas­sion­ate amour be­tween a lapsed vam­pire and a re­luc­tant witch isn’t ex­actly from the Cather­ine Cook­son school of lit­er­ary ro­mance, but it’s still an af­fair that has en­rap­tured 3.5 mil­lion read­ers world­wide since Diana Bishop – she’s the witch – and matthew Clair­mont – he’s the vam­pire – made their inky de­but in 2011.

it seems only fit­ting then that SFX is on set for sky one’s boun­teously bud­geted adap­ta­tion of Deb­o­rah Hark­ness’ best­seller A Dis­cov­ery of

Witches on valen­tine’s Day 2018. though what’s lens­ing to­day isn’t a tor­rid sex scene, nor a can­dlelit din­ner of oys­ters and Ca­nard-Duchêne. no, for teresa palmer, who plays Diana, it’s be­ing hung up­side down over a well by an evil witch while caked from head to toe in mud.

“sorry, i’ve got re­ally dirty hands,” she says sheep­ishly as she reaches out to shake SFX’s hand half an hour later. no wor­ries, we of­fer, it looked pretty hairy hang­ing there. “that scream you heard was real,” she cracks.

if you’re think­ing there’s some­thing a lit­tle ten­nant-era Doctor Who about that stunt, maybe it’s not sur­pris­ing. A Dis­cov­ery Of Witches is the first drama to emerge from the high-pedi­gree sta­bles of Bad Wolf, a Cardiff- and la-based pro­duc­tion out­fit founded by for­mer Doctor Who supre­mos Julie gard­ner and Jane tran­ter. not only that, but all this is tak­ing place just seven min­utes’ trot from Doctor Who’s roath lock HQ, in the Welsh cap­i­tal’s new­est film and tv cen­tre, Wolf stu­dios, a mas­sive pro­duc­tion space man­aged and de­signed by the two Js.

PRAC­TI­CAL MAGIC

so this isn’t the first time gard­ner and tran­ter have found them­selves launch­ing a fan­tasy brand with an un­shak­ably loyal, built-in fan­base. since its pub­li­ca­tion in 2011, Hark­ness’ doorstop­per has been trans­lated into more than 36 lan­guages and birthed two se­quels – Shadow Of Night and The Book Of Life – to make up what’s known as the All Souls tril­ogy.

a long-time afi­cionado of magic and the oc­cult, amer­i­can aca­demic Hark­ness made her de­but as a fic­tion writer with A Dis­cov­ery Of

Witches, set in a world where witches, demons and vam­pires live, mostly anony­mously, along­side hu­mans. through the cen­turies, the three groups have re­mained de­fi­antly sep­a­rate, un­til now, that is, when Diana Bishop meets matthew Clair­mont…

“she’s not at all in­ter­ested in be­ing a witch at the be­gin­ning of the se­ries,” palmer tells us, her sunny la face still streaked with Cardiff mud. “she’s run­ning away from that as­pect of her life. she has a re­ally dark past. Her parents were very well-known witches, and their lives ended be­cause they were witches. there’s like bad juju sur­round­ing that whole world for her, and she just doesn’t want to have any part of it.”

on the lam from her witchy her­itage, Diana Bishop took up an aca­demic ca­reer, be­com­ing a his­tory pro­fes­sor (rather like Deb­o­rah Hark­ness) at ox­ford univer­sity. Yet it’s here, in ox­ford’s hal­lowed

Bodleian li­brary, that the past catches up with her when she chances upon an an­cient man­u­script that chron­i­cles the ori­gins of the su­per­nat­u­ral crea­tures of the world, a book that’s cov­eted by demons, witches and vam­pires alike.

en­ter 1,500-year-old vam­pire matthew Clair­mont, played here by the vel­vety matthew goode. al­though Clair­mont has a bloody past in terms of feast­ing on hu­man prey, in 2018 he’s con­tent to gorge on stags in­stead of peo­ple. “He’s in a pe­riod of his life where he’s try­ing to con­trol that side of things,” goode tell us, in be­tween heavy puffs on his ever-present vape, “and his main thrust of the story is to try to find the book of life.”

TRAVEL PLANS

al­though the story is rooted in a pic­tureper­fect ox­ford (think of the city through a hon­eyed richard Cur­tis lens), A Dis­cov­ery Of

Witches wastes lit­tle time in jet­ting off to France, italy, Fin­land and new York state, giv­ing the show a sump­tu­ously in­ter­na­tional feel. in fact, Wood­stock, nY looms large in the se­ries, be­ing home to Diana’s de­li­ciously odd­ball aunt, sarah (played by alex Kingston) and sarah’s lover, emily (valarie pet­ti­ford). and it’s in their cosily rus­tic, books-strewn, cat-in­fested, wine-stained cot­tage that SFX finds it­self, drink­ing in the tiny de­tails that the set dressers have spent weeks adding, in­clud­ing child­hood pho­to­graphs of the young Diana, that, we’re told, come straight from the fam­ily col­lec­tion of teresa palmer.

A Dis­cov­ery Of Witches is the first drama to be lensed at Wolf stu­dios, which, at 250,000 square feet, is now one of the coun­try’s largest pro­duc­tion spaces. it’s an in­di­ca­tor then of the dough sky are throw­ing at this se­ries, and its con­fi­dence to take on the big beasts of the fan­tasy genre. it’s per­haps for­tu­nate that Warner Bros never got to make their planned movie tril­ogy (the rights elapsed in 2015, al­low­ing Bad Wolf to snap them up), as the books are too rich, too thick with char­ac­ters and sub­plots to sur­vive be­ing boiled down. post-Game Of Thrones, au­thors are look­ing to tv, as op­posed to cin­ema, as the medium that will do jus­tice to their lit­er­ary work with the least amount of com­pro­mise and cas­tra­tion.

But Game Of Thrones this new se­ries isn’t. in­stead, this is a bright and bold, proudly

we don’t treat witches, demons and vam­pires like they’re mon­sters

ro­man­tic, mass-au­di­ence pres­tige drama, that feels much more suited to the realm of sky one than sky at­lantic.

“it’s not Game Of Thrones,” clar­i­fies Jane tran­ter, “but no way is it Twi­light ei­ther.” in­stead, she ar­gues that the un­fold­ing story in

A Dis­cov­ery Of Witches be­comes “a metaphor for an ac­cep­tance of the other.

“our world is di­vided into four dif­fer­ent species – hu­mans, witches, vam­pires and demons – and we treat them all equally,” she says. “it doesn’t show witches, demons and vam­pires as mon­sters, it shows them as a dif­fer­ent species.”

FANG CLUB

re­al­ism is one of the tonal watch-words on this set. vam­pires are a dif­fi­cult species to mas­ter in 2018, with­out ap­pear­ing camp or arch. so there are no vam­piric fangs in the more grounded world of A Dis­cov­ery Of Witches, and goode po­litely bats away any idea that his matthew echoes any of the other great screen vamps. in­stead, he found his in­spi­ra­tion not in nos­fer­atu or le­stat de li­on­court, but swiss ten­nis ace roger Fed­erer. Well, duh.

“Fed­erer looks like a vam­pire in a weird way,” grins goode. “i’m sup­posed to be the most for­mi­da­ble as­sas­sin of all time, cer­tainly from the vam­pire world, and he’s an as­sas­sin on the court. i thought he was quite a good per­son to base the per­for­mance on, phys­i­cally.”

For teresa palmer, A Dis­cov­ery Of Witches’s Diana is not only her first telly lead, but her first tv pe­riod. and make no mis­take, this is Diana’s se­ries.

“With­out even know­ing it, she’s the most pow­er­ful witch that’s ever ex­isted,” palmer ex­plains. “Her parents re­alised what an in­sanely pow­er­ful lit­tle per­son she was, so they spell­bound her for her own pro­tec­tion.”

What are her pow­ers though? is she more Wil­low rosen­berg or pro­fes­sor mcg­o­na­gall? “she has the power of witch wind,” she ex­plains. “she sort of opens her mouth and a tor­nado-like wind comes out of her and she can blow any­one away. she can witch wa­ter, which is es­sen­tially like she can cause a tsunami, and she can make things move.”

the pow­ers that man­i­fest in this first se­ries, are, we’re as­sured, just graz­ing the sur­face of Diana’s su­per­nat­u­ral tal­ents.

“i haven’t read the sec­ond book yet,” palmer con­fesses. “i will – but i know that they delve more into her pow­ers.”

ah, that sec­ond book. the eight episodes of se­ries one tell the story of the first book, and the plan is, view­ing fig­ures per­mit­ting, for two more se­ries to fin­ish off the lit­er­ary tril­ogy. af­ter that, who knows. tran­ter is open to the idea of the show do­ing its own thing post se­ries three, but even she, as a “re­lent­less op­ti­mist”, isn’t tak­ing any­thing for granted.

“i would rather make three sea­sons per­fectly – well, as per­fectly as pos­si­ble – than i would make four sea­sons less well,” tran­ter says, “so i think we’ll just have to work our way through and see.”

al­though it’s been in devel­op­ment for three years now, it seems that the time has never been more right for a fe­male-fronted drama, penned by a pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male body of writ­ers, pro­duced by two of the in­dus­try’s star­ri­est woman pro­duc­ers and based on a best­selling se­ries of nov­els by a fe­male aca­demic (“we’re nicely fe­male driven, but it wasn’t en­tirely de­lib­er­ate,” smiles tran­ter). and in this po­lit­i­cally brit­tle time where fear of the out­sider, fear of the dif­fer­ent is now sadly part of the so­cial zeitgeist, A Dis­cov­ery Of Witches is putting a sim­ple, but pos­i­tive mes­sage out there for these trou­bling trump-era times.

“it’s a drama­ti­sa­tion of the need for ac­cep­tance and tol­er­ance and for all to be treated equally,” says tran­ter proudly, adding, “it’s a love let­ter to our world, but one told through a species other than hu­man, a love let­ter to the world as a beau­ti­ful place but one where dark­ness lies…”

Diana runs from her witchy past to be­come an Ox­ford his­to­rian.

To be a vam­pire, per­fect the art of glow­er­ing.

He’d watched 8 Mile far too many times.

Neck kisses are just how you say hello as a vam­pire.

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