EXCLUSIVE: The BBC is returning to the early days of the First World War for their next drama project. I’ve learned that BBC Two has given the green-light to a new three-part factual drama titled 37 Days about the breakout of the First World War. I hear that production on the drama recently began in Belfast, Northern Ireland. BBC Two controller Janice Hadlow will be announcing the drama later today at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.
Penned by Mark Hayhurst, 37 Days tells the story of the last 37 days before the outbreak of the First World War. Sources have said that the project differentiates itself from previous dramas about the breakout of the war by exploring the “untold” story of what went on behind closed doors in the corridors of power. The drama follows the rapidly changing crisis through the eyes of the principal players, during a hot summer from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914, to the declaration of war between Britain and Germany on 4 August. I hear that the three-parter has been in development at the BBC since early 2012 and is being produced by independent production company Hardy Pictures, who have some experience with historical dramas with their last such entry being the 2011 drama The Man Who Crossed Hitler, again for BBC Two. Sue Horth and Justin Hardy are serving as executive producers. While Hardy Pictures’ Creative Director Justin Hardy is also directing.
I’ve also learned that BBC Two and Hardy Pictures have assembled a strong cast for this three-parter. According to my sources the drama will star Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars), Tim Pigott-Smith (The Great Train Robbery), Sinéad Cusack (Camelot), Kenneth Cranham (In The Flesh), Bill Patterson (Law & Order: UK), Ian Beattie (Game of Thrones), Nicholas Farrell (Secret State), James McArdle (Love and Marriage), Niall Cusack (Wodehouse In Exile), Patrick Fitzsymons (The Man Who Crossed Hitler), George Lenz (Page Eight: Salting The Battlefield), Stephan Szasz and Rainer Sellien.
This is the latest drama project about the First World War to get a green-light at the BBC. Other recent commissions include The Wipers Times, about the satirical magazine which was published in the trenches, for BBC Two; The Great War for BBC One, which tells the story of two soldiers, one British and one German, who enlist in a war they expect will be over within months; and a new six episode drama series titled The Ark for BBC One, which follows a group of army medics during the war. All of these dramas are understood to be part of the corporation’s output for the upcoming centenary of World War One.