One of my favourite dramas of 2012 is soon to be back on our screens. Prisoners’ Wives returns on Thursday for a second Series. I recently got the chance to chat to writer and creator, Julie Gearey about what we can expect from Series 2 and the challenges of the drama.
How did the series initially come about?
I’d been working with Tiger Aspect for a couple of years and they knew that I was interested in doing a female ensemble. They’d had the idea for Prisoners’ Wives for a while and they’d tried it out with some different writers, but nothing had stuck. They asked me to have a go. I met a woman who became the model for Gemma in the first series. She had no idea that her husband was involved in any kind of criminal activity and had the experience of police bursting through the door. As soon as I met her I knew that this was an exciting world and that it was quite fertile territory. We had a general idea of the kind of archetypes of women we were interested in writing. We knew we wanted a career criminal’s wife and I’d listened to a documentary on the radio about women who had turned in their own kids to the police, so I could kind of hear Harriet already. So it was really a mixture of characters I was already interested in writing and then the research.
How important is it to you that you have four female leads?
That was one of the big reasons that I wanted to do it. I used to write for Coronation Street and I loved writing all the strong female characters there. There are some great actresses out there, especially older actresses and you want to write for them.
I have to ask you about the title because I think the a lot of people made snap judgements on the series based on that title before they’d seen the series. Where did the title come from?
I do think it’s misrepresentative and brings connotations to the show that we don’t necessarily want. The BBC felt it would bring us a wider mainstream audience, I’m not sure there was a full understanding of what the connotations of that title were. Hopefully we’ve transcended those concerns about the title with the series.
Is it daunting when you’re doing the research knowing that you’re going to take bits and pieces of people’s lives?
Yes, you have to be very upfront with people and say “please don’t tell me anything that you don’t want me to use.” I’d never take someone’s whole life and put it on the telly, its more about finding little bits and pieces and trying to find that authentic feel.
As you had done so much research for Series 1, did you feel more confident going into Series 2?
Yes, I’d never visited a prison before I started on Series 1 and I’ve done it quite a few times, so with Series 2 I had that shorthand. So in terms of the procedural details we were much more comfortable. We work with a charity called POPS in Manchester and we liaise quite closely with them. You can get quite complacent and think you know the world but you don’t, so you still have to check with people that you are keeping it truthful.
Because Gemma and Lou’s stories from Series 1 came to end what were challenges of writing the two new characters for this series?
We always knew with Gemma that she’d be a one Series arch. I thought Natalie Gavin was extraordinary and I really wanted to find a way of bringing Lou back, but because we only had four episodes instead of six there was no way that we could lock her up at the end of Series 1 and then have her free for Series 2.
It must be great to be given a second series, were you a bit disappointed you were only given four episodes instead of the more standard six?
It really was. We’d storylined for six, and then the BBC said it’s only going to be four. I was really really pleased it was going again, but then knowing we’d have to make a lot of changes.
The first episode of the series is full of drama, tension and excitement. Was that a result of having less time?
We had the Francesca storyline stay the same, we had to accelerate the romance between Harriet and the Chaplin. We were asked by the BBC to turn the burner up a little bit on the drama.
Did you enjoy writing the new characters or were you more keen on exploring Harriet and Francesca further?
I had the best of both worlds. I absolutely adore the characters of Francesca and Harriet and I knew where I wanted to take them, but then I also had the freedom to create two whole new characters. I really like the format of the show because it means you can stay with the characters you love, but also keep creating new characters and new families.
And of course you’ve got Anne Reid and Nicola Walker.
Yes! I was so excited to get both of them.
Did you have them both in mind when you were writing the characters?
Well with Nicola we knew we needed a cop that could stand up to Polly Walker. If we had a male cop Francesca would use her sexuality so you’d know what those scenes would be. So we thought it would be good to get a really clever, intelligent female detective to go head to head with her. Nicola Walker is such an intelligent actor and she came into our heads very quickly. I saw her in A Mother’s Son, she played a cop in that and you believe her. She brings such a gravitas to it but she’s also quite playful.
What do you think of the standard of writing on TV at the moment?
There’s a lot on. I just started watching Broadchurch and Mayday. I like lots of telly, I watch everything. I like the Good Wife, Breaking Bad I like all the big American shows. I think we’re in a good place right now.
Are you already thinking about a third series of Prisoners’ Wives or do you not tend to think about things like that?
I’m spending a lot of time in the bath trying not to think about. I’m trying to be a bit Zen about it, I’m not sure it’s working.
Will you read any online responses to this new series?
No. I’m not on Twitter or anything. I think if I was I’d only see the negative comments and get upset.
What are you working on now?
I’m working developing two or three new projects at the moment.
Prisoners’ Wives returns Thursday 14th March at 9.00pm on BBC1