Sky has made a huge commitment to original drama and this year sees the launch of several bold programming choices, across their pay-to-view channels. To entice you in, Sky have brokered a deal with Youtube to show the first episode of all their new programmes. Of course, you then have to fork out to get the rest of the shows, but if the quality of The Smoke is anything to go by, this could be money very well spent.
I was thrilled to attend the preview screening for the first episode and knew about 10 minutes in that The Smoke is likely to be one of the most talked about TV shows of 2014. Not that you’d expect anything less from Kudos, the production company who also made the most compelling crime drama not from Scandinavia: Broadchurch.
The Smoke is a lovingly crafted ensemble piece about Mile End’s White Watch, a team of firefighters battling their own complicated lives alongside horrendous fires and traffic accidents.
Writer Lucy Kirkwood, who has won oodles of awards for her plays, most recently the critically acclaimed Chimerica, says she has been careful not to put her own political views into The Smoke, but anyone who watches the jaw-dropping opening and doesn’t think Boris Johnson needs a cold slap with a wet fish for shutting firestations across London needs to go have a word with themselves.
This is not a frivolous show. We go straight into a terrible blaze, shot mainly from the firefighters perspective (a trick picked up from footage the production company had seen of American firefighters, who document their work using cameras in their helmets). The poor actors took part in real firefighter training in Gatwick, spending several hours in the ‘Hot House’ which simulates the heat and smoke of a house fire. This deeply unpleasant experience was compounded on set, where real black smoke was used throughout the scenes. In addition to this, most of the flames seen on screen are real. Rhashan Stone, who plays Mal Milligan, lost the hairs on his legs after his (real) firefighters suit melted.
This sacrifice pays off. The acting from the entire cast is tremendous, but first plaudits will go to Jamie Bamber, as lead firefighter Kev Allison. There are a couple of huge shocks in the first episode, which I have promised faithfully not to reveal, but due to something going very wrong in that first fire, Kev has been off work for 9 months nursing awful injuries. His first day back is very difficult, not least as he is called to a minor fire on the same estate where is sustained his injuries.
Thankfully, and I must admit, surprisingly, The Smoke is not all harrowing doom and gloom. The various characters all care for each other and there is plenty of banter and good natured teasing. The first episode also sets up several other stories, and it’s clear that the focus won’t just be on Ken, his partner Trish (played superbly, as always, by Broadchurch’s Jodie Whittaker) and their best mate Mal.
Custard TV are running an episode by episode blog on The Smoke, so check back after each episode to see what we made of the latest twists and turns Trust me, the twist at the end of the first episode is huge.
Contributed by Victoria Prior
THE SMOKE will air on Sky 1 HD and Sky 1+ 1 from Thursday 20th February at 9pm.
The first episode will be available for all to view at youtube.com/skyfirstepisodes from 1st March