Russell T Davies, AKA RTD, is one of this TVWriter™’s writing heroes. Without him, we wouldn’t have had the “New Who” to love for the past 14 years.
He’s no unsung hero by any means, but as far as I’m concerned his song hasn’t been played loudly enough. This interview is mostly about his upcoming BBC series Years and Years, starring Hugh Grant, but what we enjoyed most was the chance to visit a brilliant writer who honestly feels that:
“Caring for my husband is the greatest work I’ll ever do”
by Ginny Dougary
Russell T Davies arrives slightly breathless and immediately friendly. He is tall (6ft 6in), dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans and hiking boots with a rucksack slung over one shoulder. In a single bound, he enfolds me in the warmest of hugs and pours himself a cup of tea.
We’re in the boardroom of the company that’s publicising his new BBC1 drama, Years and Years, which starts next week – his last was A Very English Scandal, with Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe.
It’s intended to be set in a dystopian future but feels anxiously all too recognisably like today. Did he feel that he could write quickly enough about the future to be ahead of the material he was creating?
“The world is now so mad that it’s faster than my imagination,” he says. “I mean, at no point could I have imagined Donald Trump standing in a gold room full of hamburgers. It’s impossible to predict.”
The six-part series, which spans 15 years from 2019, has a terrific roll call of British actors, including Anne Reid, Russell Tovey, Jessica Hynes, Rory Kinnear and, in a splendidly splenetic role, Emma Thompson.
With the exception of Thompson, who plays populist celebrity-turned-politician Vivienne Rook – think Katie Hopkins meets Nigel Farage – the others are members of the Lyons family who live in Manchester. It’s an epic drama, with a shocking finale in the first episode, but at its centre lie the ties and tensions of family life.
As Davies says, it’s quite tricky to describe, “which is almost a worry when you’re pitching and selling to people because I like a one-line pitch”. I say it’s Peter Watkins’s 1965 The War Game meets Davies’s own Queer as Folk meets Doctor Who… “meets Cold Feet,” he adds. “The nice Manchester happy people. I love Cold Feet. Please bring back Cold Feet. PLEASE! This year was SO brilliant. Do I write a letter? Do I join that bandwagon?”
The futuristic elements in episode one of Years and Years are tweaks of what exists now. Mobile phones are not triangular or circular or crazily different, but you can just tap one to another and contacts are miraculously transferred. The family talks regularly to one another in a big simultaneous conversation, walking around the house – not trapped by a screen on their mobile phone – “It’s a conference call, in a sense, but an updated one….”