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Boat Story: “We’ve talked about it being a Tarantino in the North”

The team behind new BBC action thriller, Boat Story, explain why they set the action-thriller in Yorkshire.

Airing next Sunday, the drama is about 2 strangers who discover a haul of illegal drugs on a washed-up boat, but their luck soon turns to misfortune as they become the targets of a vengeful mob boss, his hitman and the police.

“The idea for Boat Story came from having seen articles about similar things involving large amounts of drugs washing up on shores somewhere,” explained Harry Williams, the co-writer and co-director alongside Jack Williams.

“Most of the shows we come up with are through a series of conversations that we have with each other. This one, was what would we do if we had stumbled across a boatload of washed-up drugs? We probably wouldn’t do what the characters did, which is try and sell them, but that would make for a less interesting series. Instead, we imagined what would happen should we have done such a thing.” 

The pair, who were also behind The Tourist explained that the tone was very important:

“The humour and the violence were one of the first things we decided upon when we set the tone for the series,” Harry Williams continued. 

“Our last show, The Tourist, had a similar thing where there was humour, violence, and emotion. We’re trying to blend all these different genres into the same show, which is not something we do in the UK, it’s more common in the US and it’s always a balancing act. We wanted Boat Story to push it even more, make the jokes sillier, the violence harder, the darkness darker and the lights to be lighter.”

Jack Williams added:

“We’ve talked about it being a Tarantino in the north, which is a lofty touchstone but sometimes it helps to talk about those things, and I believe it’s a good example. Tarantino or Martin McDonagh have tones in their shows which are wildly all over the shop and you can be violent, dangerous, emotional, and then very funny. That, for us, always feels interesting. We tried to push it as far as we could and find a bunch of different tones, sometimes within the same scene, or sometimes the music is doing something very different to what the performance is doing. You’re being pulled in all directions, trying to see where it lands while also presenting a version of the world which is hopefully real and with characters that you can understand and relate to.”

So, why the North and specifically Yorkshire?

“We had pictures in our mind of where it took place,” explained Jack.

“We wanted somewhere by the coast, but it wasn’t going to be the depiction of a traditional British TV coastal detective drama. We started to consider how to get a touch of that, but also somewhere urban that can also be rural, and we looked at a lot of different places. We started from the coast and began working back and as we looked around Yorkshire and particularly Leeds and York, we found it offered a massive variety of locations to stitch together. We wanted something that felt interesting and a little different to what we’ve seen before. There is no town in England that offered absolutely everything that you see in this show. But it’s a slightly storybook version of it, which again, felt on point thematically with what we’re trying to do.”

Daisy Haggard and Paterson Joseph play the leads Janet Campbell and Samuel Wells.

“Jack and Harry contacted me, saying they may have written a part for me and sent me the script for Boat Story,” said Haggard.

“When I read it, I really hoped they had written the part for me, because it was the most brilliantly inventive and imaginative show. It was also such a lovely, interesting character with a strong moral dilemma at the centre of the story. When I read it, I was desperate to play her and delighted when I was allowed to.”

Joseph added:

“It’s not often you get a character who is so delicate and fragile, especially as a middle-aged actor I was fascinated by that. How somebody who’s really a cracked vessel can just hold his life together, he’s just about leaking everywhere, but on the surface, everything seems fine, but we see a lot of cracks from the very early scenes. So, I was fascinated to see how that journey would continue and he just becomes more and more broken. And the fissures get wider and wider, and he holds less and less water as it goes on. It’s a great character to have been able to play.” 

They also enjoyed the experience of filming in the county:

Shooting it in Yorkshire was beautiful,” said Haggard.

“It’s such a lovely place and eating fish and chips on my lunch break was a high point! I really enjoyed it as a job. I found it really liberating, oddly, walking around with no makeup and blue hair, in a big pair of comfy boots and a huge jacket. I found the whole experience really fun, inventive and inspiring. I really enjoyed it.

“There’s such a beauty to Yorkshire. It’s stunning and there’s something about the bleak beauty of a winter, being on the beach and the wind just stripping you. There’s something about that and the story that I think really, really works. I love Yorkshire, I think it’s stunning.”

A view echoed by Joseph:

“Yorkshire has been beautiful; I’ve loved every minute of it. Halifax was the big surprise for me and going into the covered market and finding ‘the street in the sky’, which is five-bedroom houses above a market. It’s a beautiful place and should be renovated as I think artists would love to live up there. I knew the Lake District quite well, but I didn’t know the Yorkshire Dales and everywhere we’ve been, has been beautiful. 

Boat story is produced by All3Media’s Two Brothers, in association with All3Media International.

It will air on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from Sunday 19 November at 9pm.

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