“Stranger Things” star Charlie Heaton will take the lead in the BBC’s new two-part drama “The Elephant Man,” the U.K. public broadcaster announced Wednesday. Heaton will star as Joseph Merrick, and the show will span two 90-minute episodes to air on flagship channel BBC One in 2019.
Piers Wenger, controller of BBC Drama, also announced a trio of new drama series from female writers. The new commissions see dramas for BBC One and BBC Two from BAFTA winners Nicole Taylor and Michaela Coel. Oscar-nominated Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson will direct an adaptation of author Sally Rooney’s “Normal People.”
Taylor, who won a BAFTA this year for best miniseries with “Three Girls,” will write six-part thriller “The Nest” for BBC One. Exploring the consequences of a pact between a wealthy couple and a teenage girl that changes all of their lives forever, “The Nest” is produced by Studio Lambert. Susan Hogg will executive producer for Studio Lambert alongside Lucy Richer for the BBC.
Coel, who was set to give the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival on Wednesday night, will write drama “Jan 22nd” for BBC Two. Wenger said the drama would be “must-see TV for anyone with an interest in modern gender politics or anyone who is struggling to get to grips with the new rules of sex and dating.”
Coel won a 2016 BAFTA Television Award for best female performance in a comedy program for “Chewing Gum,” which also scored her a best scripted comedy nomination. “Jan 22nd” will be produced by Various Artists Ltd. in co-production with FALKNA Productions. Coel will serve as executive producer for FALKNA alongside Phil Clarke for Various Artists and Wenger for BBC Two.
Abrahamson will direct Rooney’s adaptation of her own novel “Normal People” for digital channel BBC Three. The show, which will be produced by Element Pictures, is a modern love story about how one person can unexpectedly change another person’s life and about how complicated intimacy can be. The “Room” director said Rooney’s story captured “the ebb and flow of intimacy and desire with extraordinary skill….I’m proud to be part of bringing her work to the screen audience it deserves.”
“The Elephant Man” will explore the mystery that still surrounds Merrick. It is written by Neil McKay and follows Merrick’s entire life from his working-class beginnings, through the work-houses, music halls and freak shows that punctuated 19th Century culture and society, to his time at the London Hospital and his vital friendship with Dr. Frederick Treves.
“I’m extremely excited and honored to be given the opportunity to take on the portrayal of Joseph Merrick in the BBC’s adaption of ‘The Elephant Man,’” said Heaton. “This is such a special role and a challenge for any actor. Joseph has such an incredible story, and I can’t wait to go on this journey and bring him to life.”
Merrick has been depicted many times on stage and screen, most famously by John Hurt in David Lynch’s 1980 film version, which earned eight Oscar nominations and won three BAFTAs, including best film and best actor for Hurt. The role was recently played on stage in London’s West End by Bradley Cooper.
The new adaptation, which will shoot in Wales, was commissioned by Wenger and Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content. Wenger said the project would “shed new light on this story, bringing greater depth and humanity to it than ever before.”
The show is produced by New Pictures for BBC One in association with All3Media International, which is handling international distribution. It will be directed by Richard Laxton and produced by “Poldark” producer Tom Mullens. Elaine Pyke and Charlie Pattinson serve as executive producers for New Pictures alongside Paul Unwin and Tommy Bulfin for the BBC.