London-Set BBC Drama ‘Dickensian’ May Have to Shoot in Eastern Europe

Shortage of studio space in the U.K. may force showrunner Tony Jordan to recreate 19th-century London in Bulgaria or Romania

LONDON — Leading British showrunner Tony Jordan, the creator of detective drama “Life on Mars” and grifter thriller “Hustle,” says he may have to shoot his 20-part series “Dickensian” in Eastern Europe because he can’t find studio space in the U.K. for the BBC drama production set in 19th-century London.

“Early next year we need to be building this, and at the moment we have got nowhere to build it,” Jordan told the Independent newspaper Wednesday. “I’m not sure if I would want ‘Dickensian’ to be in Bulgaria or in Romania; it just doesn’t feel quite right. It should be in the U.K.”

Traditional sound studios, like those at Pinewood and Shepperton, are fully booked in the short-term as the U.K. production biz enjoys a boom period driven by the recent extension of tax credits to high-end television shows, so many productions have had to seek out alternative space such as warehouses and former factories, like the Gillette Building in West London, where “24: Live Another Day” shot.

Jordan intends to build a set that recreates 19th-century London with “ramshackle buildings, narrow alleys and precarious overhead walkways,” the Independent reported. The set will contain around 20 buildings that have featured in Dickens’ novels, including the Old Curiosity Shop and Fagin’s lair from “Oliver Twist.”

Other buildings include The Three Cripples pub from “Oliver Twist,” the Scrooge & Marley counting house from “A Christmas Carol,” Mr Venus’ taxidermy from “Our Mutual Friend,” and a legal practice, Tulkinghorn and Jaggers, which combines the lawyers from “Bleak House” and “Great Expectations.”

The set requires studio space totaling 50,000 square foot and 33 feet in height, and a crew of around 100 to build it. Jordan is looking to lease a warehouse to house the set for around 18 months.

Alex Jones, head of production and business at Jordan’s production company Red Planet Pictures, has been searching in vain for suitable space across the U.K. for the past nine months.

“During the recession there were no industrial buildings being built and as we came out of recession everyone was dying for that space,” Jones said. Most property owners are looking to lease their buildings over five or 10 years.

Red Planet may have to break down the set into three locations, although Jordan told the Independent this would “take away the sense of scale, the sense of wonder, all the things Dickens gives you.”

Jordan has written the storylines for the 20 half-hour episodes, in which the characters from the various novels will be brought together.

“I’m taking Charles Dickens’ characters and world and places you have read about, and doing what I think the youngsters call mashing it up,” Jordan said. “I’m running fast and loose with it. There will be some of my stories and some of Dickens’, there will be prequels and sequels and some will have different endings to the novels.”

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