British period drama stars join new series of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’

An incredible line-up of British acting talent has signed up to appear in the BBC’s Talking Heads remake.

Alan Bennett’s award-winning series of monologues were first shown in 1988 and 1998.

During the current worldwide pandemic, the BBC is looking for drama projects which are able to be filmed while following the government guidelines on safe working practices during Covid-19.

Fortunately the nature of Bennett’s monologues perfectly allows for ten of the original pieces to be remade, alongside two brand new ones written by Bennett in 2019.

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, explained: “Covid-19 has laid waste to drama production in the UK, but it has also posed a challenge: how do we adhere to restrictions while still offering British viewers the chance to lose themselves in great stories at this time of national need?

“Full of insight, wit, daring and compassion, these are stories of individual lives – but of great resonance.”

Filming began this week, using existing sets.

The series will air this summer on BBC One in the UK.

Starring in the 12 new episodes are a number of familiar faces for British period drama fans.

The cast includes Imelda Staunton (The Crown), Harriet Walter (Downton Abbey), Lesley Manville (World on Fire), Maxine Peake (The Village), and Tamsin Greig (Belgravia).

They’ll be joined by Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Sarah Lancashire (Last Tango in Halifax), Jodie Comer (Killing Eve), Monica Dolan (Wolf Hall), Lucian Msamati (Game of Thrones), Rochenda Sandall (Line of Duty), and Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral).

Alan Bennett commented: “In such difficult circumstances, that the BBC should choose to remount both series of Talking Heads, and produce two entirely new ones, is a comfort and a huge compliment.

“I hope a new generation of actors will get and give as much pleasure as we did 20 and 30 years ago.”

Director and producer Nicholas Hytner added: “Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are among the masterworks of one of the very greatest writers in TV, film and theatre history.

“It has been a profound and fascinating experience to work out a way of making them again, this time with a company of phenomenal actors who are the equal of those who first made them; with a group of leading theatre directors, colleagues and friends of long standing; and with a team behind the camera that represents the best of the British TV and film industries.

“It is a wonderful bonus that two of the 2020 Talking Heads are totally new, written only a short time before the current crisis began. Everyone involved has been working in an unprecedented way, rigorously observing social distancing, entirely rethinking ways of filmmaking that until a few weeks ago seemed routine.

“The shoot will never bring any of us within touching distance of each other, but I hope that in every other way it will reach out and touch millions of viewers. We are all of us beyond grateful to the BBC for setting us this challenge.”

The full list of new episodes is as follows:

Jodie Comer in Her Big Chance (1988)
Monica Dolan in The Shrine (2019)
Martin Freeman in A Chip In The Sugar (1988)
Tamsin Greig in Nights In The Garden of Spain (1998)
Sarah Lancashire in An Ordinary Woman (2019)
Lesley Manville in Bed Among The Lentils (1988)
Lucian Msamati in Playing Sandwiches (1998)
Maxine Peake in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet (1988)
Rochenda Sandall in The Outside Dog (1998)
Kristin Scott Thomas in The Hand Of God (1998)
Imelda Staunton in A Lady Of Letters (1988)
Harriet Walter in Soldiering On (1988)

The original monologues in 1988 and 1998 starred the likes of Dame Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Patricia Routledge, Julie Walters, Thora Hird, Eileen Atkins, and David Haig.

The Complete Talking Heads by Alan Bennett is available on Amazon.