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By Stuart, Feb 10 2017 04:00AM

While I have worked in this genre (among others) for decades, I can’t remember a more exciting time in which audiences have so enthusiastically embraced this format – just look at this awards season’s lists. Perhaps it is a reaction to the fake news phenomena and deep fears generated by the world we currently find ourselves in? People want to try to make sense of an often disturbing reality. By bringing these stories to life with talented actors, the genre reaches far more people than most documentaries ever will. And I say that as someone who remains a documentarian too!

Stuart Urban speaking about fact based drama on London Live
Stuart Urban speaking about fact based drama on London Live

By Stuart, Feb 4 2017 08:30AM

I believe the key to success in this genre is a good narrative, driven by protagonists who really travel through what Hollywood script executives call a “story arc”. So, in my ITV drama “The Secret”, the character of Colin Howell goes from pillar of the community to double murderer and, after two decades of getting away with the crime, decides to confront that past. This is what surely drew James Nesbitt to the part when I approached him, and his commitment helped get the project greenlit. His wonderful performance, and others in the strong cast including Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel Buchanan/Stewart and Jason Watkins as Pastor Hanford were, I think, inspired by the deep drama inherent in the material and the sources I had access to as writer, especially Deric Henderson’s fine book.

By Stuart, Jan 31 2017 04:40PM

Everyone has the right to protest or criticise when a drama depicts painful crimes, even if dramatised in a responsible and ethical way and having consulted victims’ families as we did on The Secret. But the idea that one should refrain from depicting such events, even after 5 years, strikes me as an unfair impingement on creative freedom, often voiced by people with an agenda that is hostile to such freedoms. By the same token, seminal works such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (the book and the film) would never have been made! By examining the motives and consequences of crime, society can draw lessons.



By Stuart, Aug 29 2016 06:28AM

No one, I hear you say – even in this heyday of fact-based TV drama and films. When I wrote and directed An Ungentlemanly Act, my first fact-based drama in 1992 for the BBC about the Falklands War, I began my career formula of trying to make my fact-based work as accurate as possible, using the methods I was trained in as a historian at university.


Always find two sources if possible, never rely on one narrator but get the counter-view, and so forth. And you know what, nobody in the audience tends to notice! I was very honoured when Falklands vets commented on forums or Amazon that this is how it was. But in truth, you hardly ever get praised for accuracy, actually.


The Secret was scrupulously sourced, to the extent that the production company called it A True Story, which is not something I’d dare say myself as it is my interpretation of the facts. You tend to get into hot water when someone wants to score points against you for their own specific reasons, which, if you have done your homework right as I try to, tends to be a matter of whose version of accuracy, since it is not an infallible science applied with a simple yardstick.




By Stuart, Aug 29 2016 06:23AM

It’s certainly not merely the event itself. For example, there is the inevitable movie spinoff of the actual Hatton Garden raid by a load of old criminal geezers. To me, the only true interest lies in CHARACTER and NARRATIVE. None of these guys, as presented in media reports, nor the actual story of their raid (as opposed to the mechanics of it) represent interesting characters or narrative(s) to me. So if I had been asked, I’d pass!

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