Written by Sarah Phelps, it is a BBC Drama Production for BBC One and will be distributed by Endemol Worldwide Distribution.
Sarah Phelps, creator and lead writer, said: “I am bouncing off the walls with excitement at having such an extraordinary talented cast, bouncing off the walls.”
Marking 100 years since the start of the First World War, this gripping drama presents one of the Great War’s untold stories. In a tented field hospital on the coast of France, a team of doctors, nurses and women volunteers work together to heal the bodies and souls of men wounded in the trenches. The hospital is a frontier: between the battlefield and home front, but also between the old rules, hierarchies, class distinctions and a new way of thinking.
Kate Harwood, BBC Head of In-House Drama Production England, added: “This drama has been a work of love for writer Sarah Phelps and Executive Producer Anne Pivcevic and their team; often drawing on primary research they have re-created a vibrant and dramatic world where hope and freedom fight despair and suffering and a group of disparate people are thrown together in a refuge from the fields of war.”
When Kitty Trevelyan (Chaplin), Rosalie Berwick (Oldham) and Flora Marshall arrive as the hospital’s first volunteer nurses and struggle to be accepted by the established medical team. The girls are flung headlong into a world for which nothing and nobody could have prepared them. Kitty is escaping a traumatic past and her sharp tongue can both bewitch and antagonise those around her. For Rosalie, having failed to become a wife or mother this new opportunity means everything and Flora may look too young for the job but she’ll sure as hell make up for it with enthusiasm. However, it’s a new nurse Joan Livesey (Jones), disarming and spirited, who appears to be concealing the deepest darkest secret.
Oona Chaplin said: "'The War To End All Wars' - unfortunately that wasn't the case. We keep fighting each other and committing horrific acts of violence. Although the technology of war may be different, the people have hardly changed, which Sarah Phelps has captured here so beautifully. In The Ark we follow men and women on their journey of survival, their struggle with meaning and love, and the small victories that mean so much. In this ensemble of colourful characters, Kitty is cut-throat, intelligent, tormented and wild. I can't wait to start filming.”
Suranne Jones commented: “This is my first period drama and I am so excited at the prospect of filming a First World War series set on a frontline hospital. It’s an important period in history not just because of the war but because it was a transitional period for women, liberated in some respect but still shackled by the conventions and hierarchies of the past.
Hermione Norris said: “The emotional and psychological impact World War One had on a generation and beyond has always held a deep fascination for me. Sarah Phelps has crafted a compelling script with rich and complex characters who really explore the depth and impact of love and loss in this heroic, yet tragic period in British history.
"It's a privilege to be involved in this BBC production 100 years on, bringing the drama of World War One into the hearts and minds of this generation. 'Lest we forget.'"
Each episode sees the team care for new arrivals - the wounded or sick. The patients are a rich mix of British soldiers, troops from all over the world and even enemies from the other side of no man’s land. They also treat local civilians, those in need or people caught up in the fighting. These incoming stories bring a rich mixture of human life in all its dimensions. They are tender, heart-breaking, funny and surreal.
Above any enmities or rivalries, the characters share a bond. No-one else, not even closest family will ever comprehend this experience: the horror, the danger, the adrenalin, the joys and most of all the death-defying intoxication of simply being alive in the face of mortal danger. These characters embody an attitude of endurance, supreme courage and hope. They shoulder the burden and dance exuberantly on the edge of the grave, kissing the joy as it flies.
Hermione Norris (Spooks, Cold Feet) and Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey, Scott And Bailey) will play Grace Carter and Lt Col Roland Brett, the Matron and Chief Officer of a First World War hospital in France. Suranne Jones (Scott And Bailey, Coronation Street) will also star as Sister Joan Livesey alongside Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave, An Angel At My Table) as Sister Margaret Quayle.
They will be supported by Oona Chaplin as Kitty Trevelyan (William & Catherine: A Royal Romance), Marianne Oldham (WPC 56) as VAD Rosalie Berwick and Alice St Clair as Flora Marshall. Jack Gordon (Captain America: The First Avenger) will play Orderly Corporal Peter Foley), Alex Wyndham (Little Dorrit) as Captain Miles Hesketh-Thorne, Jeremy Swift (Oliver Twist, Gosford Park) as Quartermaster Sergeant Reggie Soper and Richard Rankin (Black Watch) as Captain Thomas Gillan.