Succession writer Lucy Prebble and His Dark Materials’ Jack Thorne have slammed the UK government’s plan to force Public Service Broadcasters to produce ‘distinctive British content’, with Prebble calling it “an empty gesture to a fictional audience”.
Speaking alongside Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight at today’s London Film Festival, I Hate Suzie creator Prebble said she “couldn’t take seriously” the government’s blueprint, which was revealed last month by culture minister John Whittingdale, who is no longer in post.
The requirement will feature in an upcoming UK government white paper and it is likely that broadcasting regulator Ofcom will be tasked with enforcing it.
“Nothing the government does feels rooted in belief or principle,” said Prebble. “This is an empty gesture to a fictional audience that the government wants to placate while it gives money back to rich people.”
Rather than following through with the ‘distinctiveness’ idea, Thorne, who recently wrote Channel 4 drama Help, which starred Stephen Graham and Jodie Comer, said the government should instead row back on plans to privatise C4.
In a wide ranging discussion hosted by Variety international editor Manori Ravindran, Thorne described a “scary time for new voices” in TV and theatre driven by the Covid-19 pandemic leading to risk aversion.
“We need to get over that quickly otherwise it will not only damage the sector but society as a whole,” he added.
Risk aversion in theatre will also have a detrimental impact on TV and film talent in 10-15 years time, added Prebble, who criticised the theatre gatekeepers for using the pandemic as an excuse to return to tried and tested creatives.
She also raised concerns UK broadcasters such as the BBC and Channel 4 are “failing to find the money” to tempt the best on-screen talent from working solely with the streamers.
This will lead to a “spiral”, she added, as less and less high-profile actors will be promoting the best work from the UK broadcasters.
Knight, whose Princess Diana film Spencer recently premiered, said the UK needs to get better at “taking something local and making it global” in the same vein as the Americans.
“The Americans took 19th century labourers and made them cowboys, creating a genre,” he said. “There is a way to take a regional story about working class people, make it mythological and hope it will strike a chord [globally].”
Prebble was also critical of mentoring in UK broadcasting, describing it as “individualistic and capitalistic” and calling on British networks to do more.
“Established mentoring schemes particularly from the BBC have been replaced with individuals,” she explained.
Sky/HBO’s Succession’s third series is shortly to debut and Prebble subtly hinted that a fourth season could be on the cards. “I’m not allowed to say. It’s going well but I don’t want to be cocky.”