From “Game of Thrones” to “Downton Abbey,” TV schedules around the world are awash with drama – but the single play is virtually ignored.
Veteran British producer Colin Callender hopes this situation may change on the back of “The Dresser,” the new Anthony Hopkins-Ian McKellen collaboration commissioned by the BBC and part-funded by Starz.
“I hope the BBC takes courage from this,” said Callender speaking following the show’s premier at London’s NFT attended by cast members including McKellen and Emily Watson. “There is a lack of one-off plays on TV. Plays adapt better on TV than in film … but the single drama on TV is an endangered species.”
Callender explained that in the U.K. TV drama’s roots are in the single play. He cited strands like the BBC’s “Play for Today” and “The Wednesday Play” celebrated for seminal shows like “Cathy Come Home.”
In the U.S. small screen drama grew out of feature films, he noted.
Callender’s production company, Playground Entertainment, made “The Dresser” with Sonia Friedman Prods.
He praised the BBC for greenlighting “The Dresser”: “There is no one else in the U.K. who would have done a piece like this.”
“The Dresser,” written by Ronald Harwood, was originally adapted for the screen by Harwood 32 years ago in the 1983 Peter Yates film starring Albert Finney and Tom Courteney.
Getting Hopkins and McKellen to work together for the first time has been described as the casting coup of the decade.
Certainly the audience at the premiere was enthusiastic and clearly moved by the performance of these two knights of British acting.
Harwood told the NFT audience that ideally he would have preferred to see another stage version of “The Dresser.”
Hopkins, however, had a very different agenda.
Callender revealed that when he met Hopkins to discuss “The Dresser” the actor was determined the show should be for TV.
“The minute I met Anthony in Los Angeles at a restaurant to talk about ‘The Dresser’ he shouted across the room to me: ‘I am not doing it on stage,’” recalled the producer. “It is a very important play to Tony, I think, because it pays homage to his own background in the theater.”
“The Dresser” focuses on the needy relationship between ailing actor-manager, Sir, played by Hopkins, and his dresser Norman, depicted by McKellen.
Sir’s company are attempting to put on a performance of “King Lear” in war-time provincial England during an air raid.
The BBC version is helmed by Richard Eyre and also stars Edward Fox and Sarah Lancashire.
In the U.K., “The Dresser” bows on BBC2 Oct. 31.