BBC Thriller The Fall Set in Belfast
Starring Gillian Anderson in the lead role, Allan Cubitt's five-part series to have 'authentic feel'
The Fall, created by writer Allan Cubitt in conjunction with BBC NI, is a serial killer chiller set in Belfast – but not as we know it. It isn’t spoiling much to note that, surprisingly enough, the fictional serial killer in question is in no way driven by sectarianism.
In fact, Cubitt – who also penned The Runaway, episodes of Murphy's Law and The Hanging Gale – actively avoided mining the usual troubled Belfast tropes when writing the series.
The Troubles are present, of course – providing an unavoidable backdrop to the piece, which inevitably features characters with ‘complicated’ pasts – but it is not an active part of the story. ‘I wanted to use Belfast in a different way,’ Cubitt explains. ‘To explore it as a new place to set a drama.’
Cubitt is familiar with Northern Ireland from past productions. He also spent time in Belfast during the writing process, mapping the city as the story developed. He admits, however, that the series will depend on Northern Irish design and location managers to give The Fall’s Belfast an ‘authentic feel’.
Failure to achieve that authenticity, after all, could potentially lead to a repeat of the US cable show Son’s of Anarchy’s risible visit to ‘Belfast’. And no one wants that – what with priests running international baby-selling operations and the dodgy Belfast accents.
‘I love the Northern Ireland accent, but I try to avoid writing in idiom,’ Cubitt adds. ‘As a writer, it can come across as a bit self-conscious. But when you have a local cast, they tend to drop it in anyhow. So little becomes wee, yes becomes aye.’
To date, the only non-Northern Irish cast member confirmed to star in The Fall is Gillian Anderson, X-Files cult icon and the memorably unhinged anti-matchmaker Miss Havisham in BBC's recent adaptation of Great Expectations. Thankfully, she won’t be putting on an accent.
In The Fall, Anderson plays an English Detective Superintendent who is drafted in when the Police Service of Northern Ireland fail to catch the killer. Considering Belfast's long and bloody history, I put it to Cubitt that it is perhaps unfair to imply that the PSNI would need outside help to identity a lone killer.
Cubitt laughs and explains that is 'just standard procedure'. After all, if there has been no progress made on a case after 28 days, UK police departments are obliged to seek objective eyes to review the investigation.
'It doesn't even necessarily have to be someone in the police,' Cubitt explains. 'On this occasion it just happened to be someone with specialist skills that the police in Belfast didn't have. They have never had this sort of crime here before.'
Shooting for The Fall will begin soon and, 'if all goes according to plan', says Cubitt, will air on BBC 2 in autumn 2012. (Or in the Fall, if you like your Americanisms.) Currently the BBC have commissioned one five-part series, but Cubitt hopes for a second.
'It's a very complex case and it would take a long time to unravel it,' he says. 'Plus, in a case like this, the longer the investigation goes on, the more scrutiny there is, the more cracks start to show with the police and with the criminal...'
Cubitt will be spending more time in Northern Ireland over the next few months. In addition to The Fall, he is working on an adaptation of Eugene McCabe's Fermanagh based novel Death & Nightingales.
So, has being in Belfast in the run-up to the Titanic commemoration given Cubitt the urge to join everyone else in writing about it? 'I've no plans!' he says lightly. 'Do you think I should?'