BBC One has given the green-light to The Elephant Man, a two-part drama starring Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things) as Joseph Merrick – better known as The Elephant Man.
“I’m extremely excited and honoured to be given the opportunity to take on the portrayal of Joseph Merrick in the BBC’s adaption of The Elephant Man”, Heaton said. “This is such a special role and a challenge for any actor. Joseph has such an incredible story and I can’t wait to go on this journey and bring him to life.”
The Elephant Man tells the story of Joseph Merrick from his working-class beginnings in Leicestershire, through the work-houses, music halls and freak shows that punctuated 19th Century culture and society; to his time at the London Hospital and his vital friendship with Dr Frederick Treves. The drama explores the mysteries that surround Merrick and the man behind the myth.
Merrick was born in Leicester in 1862 and at the age of 5 he began to develop physical deformities to his skin, face, arms and feet. When he was 11, his mother died from bronchopneumonia, his father soon remarried and by 17 he was a resident of the workhouse after his relationship with his father deteriorated. Seeking to escape the workhouse several years later, Merrick found his way into a human oddities show in London where he was exhibited as ‘The Elephant Man’. He met Dr Frederick Treves in 1884, after he had witnessed Merrick being exhibited in a shop across the road from the London Hospital. Treves brought Merrick to the London Hospital where he lived until his death in 1890, aged 27.
The series, which will consist of two feature-length 90 minute episodes, was commissioned by the BBC’s Controller of Drama Piers Wenger and the BBC’s Director of Content Charlotte Moore. It is being penned by Moorside scribe Neil McKay. The Missing indie New Pictures are producing in association with All3Media International. Richard Laxton is directing, while Tom Mullens is the producer. The executive producers are Elaine Pyke and Charlie Pattinson for New Pictures, and Paul Unwin and Tommy Bulfin for the BBC. The BBC said that further casting would be announced at a later date.
“Neil’s scripts, chronicling Joseph’s life in its entirety, will shed new light on this story bringing greater depth and humanity to it than ever before”, said Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama. “Charlie Heaton promises to be extraordinary in the lead role and we are excited to be telling this powerful, resonant story on BBC One.”
While Executive Producer Elaine Pyke added: “It wasn’t until we started the research that we realised there was such a rich story to tell about this wonderful man. Joseph’s determination to be his own man, to earn a living, to find a sense of freedom and to express himself is inspiring to all. Neil McKay’s beautiful script captures this extraordinary story and we are thrilled that Charlie Heaton is going to play Joseph.”