Helena Bonham Carter is set to play one of the U.K.’s forgotten soap stars in a new limited series from “Years and Years” and “It’s a Sin” writer Russell T. Davies and producer Nicola Shindler.
“Nolly,” commissioned by commercial broadcaster ITV, looks at the reign and fall from grace of TV legend Noele Gordon, who was a mainstay on long-running ITV soap opera “Crossroads” for 18 years until she was unceremoniously fired.
“What’s extraordinary is that this woman was at the absolute peak of the powers — and this was the biggest show in the country — and she was fired without any kind of explanation, and without any kind of right to respond,” Shindler told Variety.
“In a post-#MeToo world, it’s fantastic to look at the theories and to examine what she [went through] at the time, and the way that she was treated, and how that was acceptable,” the producer continued.
The three-part drama will be written by Davies, and produced by Shindler’s new production company Quay Street Productions, which is backed by ITV Studios. The project is the first for Shindler’s new outfit, which was formed earlier this year following her 2020 exit from Studiocanal-backed RED Production Company.
On the surface, “Nolly” appears to be a very specific British story. Known as the Queen of the Midlands, Gordon had a reputation as a tough and haughty actor who would sweep into rehearsals from a Rolls Royce, but she was beloved by cast and crew. Her sacking from “Crossroads” in 1981 sparked a public outcry that created such pressure on the writing team that an alternative ending had to be written for her character, Meg Mortimer.
“One of my very first jobs in TV was a trial script for ‘Crossroads,’ and I’ve wanted to write the story of behind the scenes on that show for 40 years,” said Davies. “At last, the truth can be told!”
Bonham Carter’s turn as Gordon marks something of a return to British broadcasting for the Oscar-nominated actor, who last appeared in a recurring role on terrestrial television in 2016 with the BBC’s “Love, Nina.” More recently, she starred as Princess Margaret in Netflix’s “The Crown.” She also has a guest role in the forthcoming U.K. adaptation of “Call My Agent” on Amazon Prime Video.
“She’s someone who can inhabit a really extraordinary, interesting, strong, eccentric kind of dynamic woman,” said Shindler of the actor. “It needed to be someone who was iconic in her own right, because Noele Gordon was so iconic at the time. And it needed to be someone who has a sense of humour, which [Bonham Carter] clearly has.”
Bonham Carter admitted she hadn’t previously heard of Gordon prior to receiving Davies’ script, but was drawn to her public struggle as a woman battling sexism in the industry.
“Noele Gordon was a fascinating, complex, brilliant and gutsy woman — none of which I knew before I read Russell T Davies’ script,” said Bonham Carter. “I’m so thrilled to help tell Nolly’s long overdue and largely forgotten story. Russell’s screenplay is a work of brilliance and I hope I’ll do him and Nolly justice. I can’t wait to start.”
The show is directed by Peter Hoar (“It’s A Sin”) while Karen Lewis (“Happy Valley”) is producing. The series is produced in association with, and distributed by, ITV Studios. Production will begin in 2022.
Debut project for Shindler’s Quay Street Productions
“Nolly” marks the latest collaboration in a long-standing relationship between Davies and Shindler, who teamed up on “It’s a Sin,” “Years and Years,” “Cucumber,” “Banana” and “Queer as Folk.”
“We’re in contact all the time and we always talk about ideas, and [I ask,] ‘What do you want to write?'” said Shindler. “He mentioned [‘Nolly’] to me a while ago, actually, but I didn’t know that it was so present in his mind until he said, ‘This is what I want to do next.’ And then it was just a no brainer for me.”
The Manchester-based executive, who is one of Britain’s pre-eminent producers, says her move from RED — a company she founded in 1998 and built up with shows like “Queer as Folk” and “Happy Valley” — came from a need for change after being at one company “for a long time.”
“It was time for me to move on to something different,” said Shindler, who is still finishing off a number of RED-produced projects, including author and screenwriter Harlan Coben’s “Stay Close” for Netflix and Danny Brocklehurst’s “No Return” for ITV.
At Quay Street, Shindler is passionate about discovering new voices in drama, and is discussing projects with both streamers and broadcasters.
“I’ve been working with a lot of interesting writers over the last year who I hadn’t worked with before, and also some of the people who I had worked for,” she said. “[I’ve been] looking to new projects and what they really want to make. For me, what’s important is [asking,] ‘What is the writer passionate about? What do they really want to make or put on screen?’ And then, can I make that really entertaining and sellable?”
While Shindler, who counts gritty crime drama “Happy Valley” among her best known works, is not involved in writer Sally Wainwright’s third season of the cop show (produced by BBC Studios’ Lookout Point rather than RED following a parting of ways between Shindler and Wainwright), the executive says she “can’t wait to watch it.”
“I’m really looking forward to it, as a viewer,” said Shindler. “It’s a fantastic story.”