BBC First (DStv channel 119) will be screening the new drama series, Unforgotten, from 8 pm on Wednesday, July 20.
Written and created by Chris Lang (Undeniable, A Mother’s Son, Torn), the series focuses on a ‘cold’ murder case of 39 years ago when the bones of a young man are found beneath the footings of a demolished house.
An investigation begins that will unravel the lives of four people who have been waiting for this moment for nearly forty years. They soon discover the past can’t, and won’t stay buried forever.
THELUVVIE speaks to Bernard Hill about playing one of the suspects, Father Robert Greaves, in the drama.
What was your initial reaction when approached about a role in Unforgotten?
I was working on a British feature film called Golden Years and the two productions overlapped, so I had to make a decision quite quickly and couldn’t go to the script read through for Unforgotten. Eventually I finished work on the film on a Friday and started this on the Monday.
I crammed all the information in when I could really focus on Unforgotten. There are so many different layers to it as the story unfolds.
All the characters have great depths and I think the audience will be carried along by it, week by week. You go along with certain things, believe certain things and are deceived by certain things. Viewers will enjoy the conversations within families about who may, or may not, be guilty. That will raise a few debates.
Who is Father Robert?
Father Robert is a very nice guy and everybody likes him. He runs a small community centre and his church in Southend is a big part of the community, a person who is massively sympathetic to everybody’s causes.
He has a great family with two daughters, Caroline (Tamzin Malleson) and Ellie (Claire Goose), and a wonderful wife Grace, played by Hannah Gordon.
Have you played a priest before?
I played an Abbot once in an American film. You see Father Robert in the full regalia and in the dog collar, but I pretend I’m not wearing the uniform.
If you’re playing a priest, the worst thing you can do is to play a priest. I think priests are like that anyway. The priests that you get on with, it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing. They don’t go around saying, I’m a priest.
Father Robert is one of four suspects. But you never meet the other three?
That’s right. Tom Courtenay, Trevor Eve and Ruth Sheen and I don’t overlap. All four characters are linked to a young man in the 1970s but they are four different storylines going right through the series.
Trevor is an old mate of mine. We started out at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool together. He played Paul McCartney to my John Lennon, if you like, and I haven’t seen him while filming this.
I remember Tom Courtenay in Billy Liar and, as young lads then, we all identified with that kind of attitude. A downtrodden young man wanting to make his way in life, threatening to go to London; I was in Manchester and we used to do that.
We’d have a few beers and romantically go down to Piccadilly station and say, ‘We’re going to get on this train! We’re going down to London like Billy Liar!’ And at one point we did actually get on the train, until it started to move and we all jumped off. So Tom was definitely an influence.
Unforgotten reflects back from the modern day on the story of a young man who came to London in the 1970s. Did this resonate with you?
The first time I stayed overnight in London was when I came down from Manchester for a RADA audition. I hitchhiked down on a truck and got to London in the early hours of the morning and fell asleep in a doorway standing up. It’s great preparation for doing an audition for RADA.
Then I went to the Westminster Catholic Cathedral, because I was raised a Catholic, and fell asleep in the pews. I went into the YMCA and had a wash, spruced myself up a little bit then set off for the audition at RADA. I failed, obviously.
The next time when I actually did stay in London, I’d stopped being involved in religion and believing in God but I still used our local parish connections. I came down and stayed in Waterloo because the parish there was run by Franciscans. So my father arranged for me to stay overnight. That’s when I saw the Old Vic Theatre on the corner nearby I was romantically standing there thinking, ‘I’m going to play there some day’, and I never did.
I eventually went to the Everyman in Liverpool and we transferred The Beatles show from there down to the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End.
That was the first time I’d spent more than four weeks away from Manchester in my life, and I was 30 at the time. I’d been away a lot and I’d travelled away for days, a week and so on, but never for more than a month. So I stayed in London for seven weeks and then ran back to Manchester.
It was a different time with no mobile phones or social media like today.
Communication has totally changed since the 1970s. You’re never alone now because people are constantly in touch with each other via things like Facebook. Back then it would be a letter or a call from a phone box.
If there’s anything good coming out of this massive level of communication, social media, it’s that. To a certain extent young people have more of a safety net in terms of family and friends knowing what they may be up to.
Why do you think viewers should watch Unforgotten?
There are grown up layers to hold the audience’s attention. It doesn’t shirk away from sensitive issues that may be avoided in other series. The layering of the stories and the characters is compelling.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT FATHER ROBERT? READ ON…
Father Robert Greaves is a priest in a parish of Leigh on Sea on the South East coast.
He has been married to Grace for 39 years and they have two grown up daughters, Ellie and Caroline. Ellie is in the process of planning her wedding to fiancé Tom and Caroline is pregnant with her first child.
Robert acted as chaplain to Arlingham House from 1972-1983, which is the reason he is interviewed as part of the investigation.
WHO ELSE APPEARS IN THE SHOW?
- Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax, Babylon, Scott & Bailey) is DCI Cassie Stuart, a divorcee who lives with her father, Martin, with whom she has a good relationship and a shared passion for doing The Times crossword. She has two sons, both studying at University. When Cassie begins to investigate the death of the young man whose body is discovered in the foundations of a Victorian property, she isn’t prepared for how much the case touches her – particularly when she breaks the news of his death to the boy’s mother.
- Sanjeev Bhaskar (The Kumars, The Indian Doctor, Goodness Gracious Me), is DS Sunil ‘Sunny’ Khan, Cassie’s work colleague. A single father of two teenage girls, Sunny is overworked but always does his best to deliver. Sunny and Cassie have a tight working relationship often punctuated with truthful and humorous conversation. They make a good team and their policing skills, attitude and approach to the job complement perfectly;
- Trevor Eve (Death Comes to Pemberley, Kidnap and Ransom, Waking the Dead), is Sir ‘Frank’ Philip Cross, who has recently been appointed as the government’s entrepreneur Czar. He has been happily married to his childhood sweetheart Shirley for over 40 years and has two grown up children, Josh and Bella. As the CEO of a successful retail company, he has always traded on his status as a self-made man who started out selling from the back of a van down East Lane market. But as Cassie and Sunny discover, the truth turns out to be more complicated and Sir Philip has gone to great lengths over the years to cover up a past that he is deeply ashamed of;
- Ruth Sheen (Our Girl, Mimic, Mr Turner) is Lizzie Wilton, who lives in Corydon with her second generation Jamaican husband Ray. Lizzie and Ray tragically lost their only son Michael at a young age. They are now both heavily involved in community projects helping local disadvantaged young people. Lizzie has a particularly close friendship with one of their most troubled kids, Curtis, who is attempting to resist peer pressure to join a gang. Cassie and Sunny will discover that Lizzie is a very different person to Beth Laws as she was known in 1976, a troubled runaway living on the streets; and
- Tom Courtenay (45 Years, Little Dorrit, Quartet, The Dresses and Doctor Zhivago), who plays Eric Slater, a former bookkeeper who worked at Arlingham House in the late 70s, and remembers the victim well. He is the carer of his much loved wife Claire, who has advanced dementia. Now long in retirement, Eric is in the process of organising a 40th wedding anniversary party, and trying to resist his son Les’ proposal that he and Claire move to sheltered housing.