Since they were given their heads, the big auteurs of modern TV have been its screenwriters. So “No Return” can be taken various ways. It’s an ITV series from Red Production Company, which has attracted huge heat producing Russell T. Davies’ “It’s a Sin” and “Years and Years.”
It’s sold by Studiocanal, Europe’s biggest film-TV production-distribution powerhouse which owns Red Production Company and is behind the “Paddington” franchise, multiple Liam Neeson hit thrillers and upcoming Western, “Django.”
In production since July, it’s billed as compelling event drama, starring BAFTA award winning actress Sheridan Smith (“Mrs Biggs”).
But it’s also the latest from Danny Brocklehurst, now one of the U.K.’s preeminent screenwriters.
Few have his range or pedigree. After learning his craft from two of the greatest TV voices of working class Britain, Paul Abbott (“Shameless”) and Jimmy McGovern (“The Street,” “Accused”), he wrote half of Harlan Coben’s “The Five” and “Safe,” which closed 2018’s Canneseries. Brocklehurst has now come into his own, most notably with BBC One mini-series “Come Home” and “Brassic,” Sky’s biggest comedy in recent years, launching Season Three on Oct. 6.
“No Return” would seem a part return to Harlan Coben mode, a facade of a perfect life suddenly shattered revealing that people weren’t what they seemed.
In this case, Kathy (Smith) leads her family on a seemingly idyllic all-inclusive break to Turkey, only for her world to crumble when son Noah is arrested after attending a local beach party. Kathy and husband Martin (Michael Jibson) are left to navigate an expensive and alien legal system as their vacation turns into a living hell.
Directed by John Alexander (“Grace,” “Belgravia”) and produced by Farah Abushwesha (“The Singapore Grip,” “The ABC Murders”), “No Return” also takes Brocklehurst back to one of his favorite themes, family, whose modern pressures he unpicked expertly in “Come Home.” Variety talked to him in the run-up to Mipcom where Studiocanal will be introducing the series to buyers:
I suspect that you’re now in a position where you could write about quite a lot of things in the world. What was your central interest in creating “No Return”?
I wanted to work on a big family drama with a real motor at its heart. Noah’s arrest has enormous ripple effects on the two families, exposing their secrets, things festering for years, questions about their son and about themselves. There’s also the subtle but important theme of consent that feels quite topical now.
“No Return” has certain Harlan Coben vibes: Happiness, or at least its facade, suddenly shattered, revealing secrets. But maybe that’s a superficial comparison?
Harlan Coben thrillers are a different beast, the TV equivalent of a page turner. “No Return” has a slightly different tone, there’s still a sort of crime element, hopefully it’s very pacy and people want to know what happens, and we end each episode on a big hook. But it leans more into the idea of family. This is a very universal story – and I don’t say that about everything I write. It’s about family. It’s about love. It’s about protection of your own. And tensions created in extreme situations.
On all-inclusive holidays people hardly interact with local culture, let alone authorities. In “No Return,” it’s the opposite….
One of the things that interested me was that most of us go on package holidays or sun and beach holidays where essentially you’re flying into a country, living in a tourist bubble for a week or two, then flying out. You might go to really interesting places – the Dominican Republic, Croatia, or in this case Turkey, but you’d certainly never think about what would happen if you fell foul of that country’s legal system which can be very different to your own. In “No Return” that happens.
Did you do a lot of research for the series, and do you research a lot in general?
On my more “serious” dramas, yes. When I wrote “Come Home,” about a mother leaving her family and what that meant for the father, I examined what that meant in terms of child support and other considerations. On “No Return,” I had to do lots of research on the [Turkish] legal system, speak to a lot of people. We want to get that right. The last thing we wanted was people going: “It’s not like that really.” That was a little bit daunting at first. But once I threw myself into it, I really enjoyed it.
Do you think of yourself as an auteur? In other words, what do you think you bring to “No Return” as a writer?
If you think of someone like, say, Jimmy McGovern, he’s a great guy and a good man, and a Jimmy McGovern drama has a certain stamp on it. I like to do quite different genres, flex different muscles. When I’m writing a comedy drama I’m trying to be funny, poignant at times, but basically, I’m having fun. I sometimes do all out thrillers. And then things like “No Return,” “Exile” and “Come Home,” which are kind of more characterful. But if you looked at the work I’ve done, there are probably themes that I return to, certain things I wanted to say about the world, which put my stamp on them.
Could you name one?
I did a whole series, “Ordinary Lies,” about ordinary people put in exceptional circumstances where their life suddenly takes quite an extreme turn that they have to deal with. Obviously that is drama to some degree. But I’ve written a lot over the years about the ordinary person pushed to extremes by circumstance perhaps of their own making, perhaps external. It’s a theme that does fascinate me. The more you write about ordinary, recognizable people, the more the audience can ask questions about their own lives. Paul [Abbott], Russell [T Davies] and Jimmy [McGovern] all do that really well, with a sort of realist sense that draws an audience in.
And do you think you bring a particular focus to this theme?
I was kind of drawn into the industry by Paul Abbott and worked with him for many years – on “Clocking Off” and “Shameless.” One of the things he used to say was, something like, that Frieda, a machinist in the factory, there’s no reason why that person wouldn’t have a brain that’s interested in other things. You don’t have to write such characters as cliche. Real people are very surprising. You’ve only got to go out into the real world and have a chat with somebody. And, you know, I didn’t expect that.