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Stephen – Interview with Mark Redhead – Executive Producer

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Q: You produced The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, broadcast in 1999. How did this latest drama come to the screen?

“The Murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1999 was very important to me both professionally, because it won a BAFTA, but also personally. It was something I cared about before working on it. Racism and inequality in the UK was, and is, of deep concern to me. Over the years I have remained in touch with Doreen Lawrence and her lawyer Imran Khan and this is not a story that has gone away.

“I went to the Old Bailey trial which resulted from the investigation by DCI Clive Driscoll and his team. I had a chat there with Stephen’s brother Stuart and various other members of the family. I met Clive after the trial and later read Clive’s book which was published in 2015. The section on Stephen Lawrence is about 100 pages long and I was really upset by it. I felt this was a story that needed to be told.

I went to ITV to say I would like to return to this story, having done the previous drama in 1999 and they wanted it to happen. Paul Greengrass, who wrote and directed the previous film, also came on board as an executive producer. I knew he would care about it and was also somebody with wise editorial judgement.

“I approached Frank Cottrell Boyce, who I’ve known for a long time, to write it. We previously did a drama together called God On Trial. Frank brought his son Joe in because Joe is a psychotherapist and works in a forensic unit. This is a story about parents and children so having someone younger was helpful. But the authorship of the piece, like all dramas, is a collective thing. It is a collective endeavour and something really inspiring and, dare I say it, beautiful emerged out of that. From a group of people working together to try and achieve the best possible drama.

“We were also very keen to have as diverse a production team as possible. This is a story about Neville and Doreen Lawrence and a black family. The ownership of the drama is with them and Clive Driscoll was, as it were, their servant. In terms of this production, it is about white people and black people working together for a positive outcome which is to make a really strong drama. The producer Madonna Baptiste and director Alrick Riley are black as is the director of photography and most of the heads of department, including make-up designer Nora Robertson, who worked on the original drama over 20 years ago. It’s a very diverse collection of people which is a real positive. It is something we have tried to reflect very much in the way we have put the production together.”

Q: Is there an extra responsibility when it comes to telling a real life story like this?

“When you take on these factual dramas they are a big responsibility. That responsibility to get this right weighed very heavily on me, because it is Neville and Doreen’s lives. Like Baroness Lawrence does, I want something positive to emerge from the tragedy of Stephen’s death.

“I have the most incredible admiration for Doreen and Neville. It is remarkable how they have turned something so negative into a force for good.

“In terms of telling this story, it is really important that we try and shine light into dark corners and face those things. That’s part of the process of making this country a better place. It is something I care about very deeply as I think most people do. Most people share the values that we promulgate in the drama.”

Q: How would you describe DCI Clive Driscoll, who volunteered to take over the Stephen Lawrence case in 2006 with the aim of finally getting some justice for the family?

“Clive is a good man. As a former ambulance man who joined the police, it feels as though he is there to heal the wounds. In some respects he appears to be something from the past. He says himself that he adopted the values of Dixon of Dock Green and followed those. But Clive also had a very modern approach to policing, rooted in old values of service.

“He’s both something from the past but also a very modern, progressive, enlightened thinker in terms of what he brought to being a police officer. He has this saying, ‘They call it common sense but it ain’t that common.’ That, in a way, sums him up. He doesn’t use any jargon when modern policing is full of jargon. Clive is very straightforward in his approach.

“There is a line in the script where Neville asks him why he volunteered to take the case on. And Clive replies, ‘I think a young lad should be able to catch the bus home without being killed. If we can’t solve a murder like Stephen’s then what’s the point of us?’ It’s a very simple philosophy. I have a lot of admiration for Clive.

“He was a maverick because he actually followed the rules and tried to do things without cutting corners. He’s a good bloke, and good blokes don’t often become the central figures in dramas. He is also genuinely funny and warm and embodies a lot of really great, positive values. Certainly that’s what Steve Coogan felt in taking the role. The opportunity to inhabit a good man was a rare privilege.”

Q: What does Steve Coogan bring to the role of DCI Clive Driscoll?

“Steve is fantastically good in this role. He allows Clive to be funny, warm and down to earth. Just very sympathetic and empathetic. When you see him in the scenes with Neville and Doreen there is a real warmth. You would not expect Doreen and Neville Lawrence to get on with Clive Driscoll. You would think it would be impossible because they come from such, apparently, opposite places and yet they did, they clicked, and Steve does that brilliantly – Clive is just this warm, likeable, decent guy.”

Q: Did it help that Hugh Quarshie had also played Neville in the 1999 drama?

“It really did help as Hugh is brilliant. He is such a great actor – he’s outstanding and compelling. Neville does a lot of work in terms of going into schools and talking to young people about violence, knife crime and so on. We wanted to stage a scene in a school but due to Covid that was impossible.

“We explore the impact a murder has on the inner life of somebody, plus the issue of forgiveness. Neville is a religious man and that is a very personal exploration for him. He is interested in how you forgive, how you move forward, how you stop the murderers inhabiting your own soul.

“Whereas by contrast with Doreen, in our drama at least, we explore how she wants to change the world. So there are two sides. The inner questions a murder raises in terms of Neville and, with Doreen, it’s the bigger political, societal issues that she is wrestling with in the drama.”

Q: How does this new three-part TV drama differ in style to the 1999 film?

“That was the film in which Paul Greengrass found his style. That visceral style emerged out of making that film. It was a function of trying to capture the experience of Neville and Doreen Lawrence. It happened to look like a documentary, because we were following them on their journey.

“We’ve chosen to approach Stephen in a different style. It’s a more formal film. The 1999 film emerged out of the volcanic emotions of that particular moment in the immediate aftermath of the murder, along with the anger and everything else that flowed from that. Whereas there is some distance now with this film, coming over 20 years after the first and telling the later story. It requires a different kind of film making.”

Q: What challenges did the pandemic throw up for the production?

“I was on set in the end for the entire shoot, somebody described it as an ancient striker coming off the bench. It was tough because you never see the faces of some people because everyone has masks on, together with all of the social distancing, it’s very strange.

“It also makes filming large groups of people very difficult, like crowd scenes. We have a big scene filmed at the original location of St Martin-in-the Fields. In real life there were several hundred people there to mark the 15th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s death. So we had to reflect that with social distancing and 20 extras, when normally we would have just filled the church.

“We also filmed at the Stephen Lawrence Centre in south London. But we did not go to Well Hall Road where Stephen was murdered and where his memorial is as it is such a sensitive location. We filmed those scenes in a suburban street in Ealing, largely at night. For the Old Bailey trial we filmed at a court in Kingston, Surrey, with some exteriors outside the Old Bailey and at Kingston. We also filmed in Dagenham, Greenford and all around London.”

“With a fictional story you can change the story to fit with the circumstances. But with a real story you just have to find ways of filming it without too many compromises. It makes it difficult, certainly. Also normally you would film domestic interiors in people’s houses, we couldn’t do that so we had to build a lot of sets.”

Q: What was it like filming the court scenes?

“It was very moving filming those court scenes of the trial at the Old Bailey. The actors who play Gary Dobson and David Norris were terrific. I took my hat off to them taking on these roles which must have been pretty daunting.

“It was also moving depicting how Clive and his team recreated the attack on Stephen. Acting it out in a Met Police photographic studio. Even though it is just people doing a reconstruction without any weapons in a well lit room, it is really very disturbing. An extraordinary scene and really upsetting.”

Q: Sadly, this is a story that is still very relevant today.

“I conceived the idea for this drama four years ago, because that’s how long it takes to get to the screen, and then we had the pandemic. When I pitched it to ITV it was relevant, but it has sadly become more relevant and timely as time has gone on.

“There is a line that Doreen says in our drama in her speech at St Martin-in-the-Fields with the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others in attendance. She says she is really grateful they are there, but she really wishes they weren’t and she wishes she wasn’t there. That’s my feeling about this. I wish this drama was not necessary. That we were in such a place that it would not be necessary to keep returning to this story, but it is important.

“I know of some younger people who have never heard of Stephen Lawrence, who don’t know the story at all. You have to keep reminding people of what Stephen Lawrence Day on April 22nd is about, what this story is about and why it is ever more relevant. We also reflect the fact that Stephen is not a unique case.

“At its heart, drama is about relationships and at the heart of this drama is the relationship between black people and white people in our country. Finding that beneath the surface they have far more in common than what divides them. It’s a simple but inspiring thing, really beautiful and precious.”