“WHAT we’re facing goes beyond everything we know.”
The first media screening of Outcasts in London last night.
We saw episode one of BBC1’s new eight-part series – due on screen next month – plus a long press showreel of what follows.
Outcasts stars Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris, Daniel Mays, Jamie Bamber, Amy Manson, Ashley Walters, Michael Legge and Eric Mabius.
A group of pioneering humans has created a new home in the settlement of Forthaven on the planet Carpathia.
It’s a whole new world, as Jasmine and Aladdin sang in a 1992 Disney film.
We join this band of pioneers a number of years into their life on the alien planet, as the first Earth transporter for five years approaches.
Although it’s not spelled out in the opening hour, it appears nuclear weapons have left the Earth in a very bad way.
Forcing the evacuation to a planet in the “Goldilocks Zone”, where difficult decisions have already been made.
Forthaven is a fragile and divided community, with Mitchell Hoban (Jamie Bamber) intent on finding a new kind of freedom.
He is Head of the Expeditionaries and a local hero.
Liam Cunnigham is President Richard Tate, landed with the role of ensuring humanity survives in its new home.
While Hermione Norris plays Dr Stella Isen, Head of Protection and Security, waiting to see if her husband and daughter are on the incoming transporter.
The Kudos production was filmed in South Africa last summer and provides a bleak opening which may not be to everyone’s taste.
But having seen what is to come in the next seven episodes, my advice is to stick with it once the not inconsiderable job of establishing that whole new world and its characters on screen has been done.
Just who are the outcasts?
And are humans the dominant species on Carpathia?
Some of the characters, including protection and security officer Cass Cromwell (Daniel Mays), are carrying secrets from their past.
While the future for humanity on Carpathia is certainly not as straightforward as it may initially seem.
Last night’s Soho screening was followed by a Q&A, with writer Ben Richards – whose past credits include Spooks, The Fixer and Party Animals – as well as Hermione Norris and Liam Cunningham.
Here are a few edited highlights:
Ben Richards on his inspiration for Outcasts:
“I was particularly interested at the beginning in the idea of pioneeers, perhaps more so than in space, and in pioneer communities. I was particularly interested in Australia, for example, and the Virginia settlers.
“I was chatting about it with Kudos and there was a very nice Stephen Hawking quote – he actually believes that humans will become extinct – that the only hope for humanity was to reach for the stars and to settle on other planets.
“And I thought that was the way in which I could marry the two ideas of both pioneers and, suddenly, space, which was a new development for me. So that was how in originated.”
Ben said he was beyond pleased at how his vision had been realised on screen:
“For an episode of British television, I think that’s utterly astonishing – that they’ve captured that cinematic and epic feel.”
Liam Cunningham on why he took the role:
“I think it’s the old cliche of wanting to hold a mirror up to society, which is the artist’s job….the guy is originally a geneticist who was involved in the organisation of getting people off the planet and settled. And, for whatever reasons, he ends up as the figurehead or whatever. So he’s kind of – as everybody is – stumbling and trying to organise and get a community, a fair society, going. And all the complexities of that. It was a great opportunity to examine that sort of thing.
“His mission is to keep humanity going, by whatever means necessary. Which we will discover as we go on that it wasn’t always the right decisions that he made. But his heart was in the right place.
“It was one of our rules that the town evolved from the landing of the ship. So the control room is more or less the centre of the town. And the town was built from the scrap, along with the stuff that was brought with us on the transporter. So the town evolved from the spaceship. Which I thought was a very logical kind of thing to do, if one were to go to another planet.
“You’re not going to find Premier Inn when you get there. Fortunately, probably some would say. So you’re going to have to build. I like that logic and I like the fact that, for want of a better phrase, it has a slightly shoddy aspect to it. The paint is peeling. It took a lot of work to get it looking old. It’s almost kibbutz-like.”
Hermione Norris on why she took her part:
“I think it’s an incredibly bold idea, Outcasts. And I was fascinated by playing a character used as a conduit to explore society and its survival and the grief of what has been left behind. On a backdrop where a group of people are placed in pioneer circumstances. Any emotion is intensified. Relationships are heightened. Humanity is heightened. As an actor, that’s what is the thrill – the dynamics between people, relationships, human life. Outcasts explores that and brings it to the fore. I thought it was an incredibly bold drama to take on.”
Stella’s separation from her husband and daughter?
Hermione: “I think Stella is the maternal element on Carpathia and the moral compass. Just human life – the importance of birth, love…she leaves Earth with the guarantee that her family will be on the next transporter…it raises questions, like what are me made up of? Are we made up of the memories that we have, the relationships we have? It is the fabric of who we are, the recall you have and moving forward with those memories. How you pioneer into the future. So the subject matter is just endless and enormous and bold. I’ve worked with Ben before and I love his writing and it was an inspired idea and piece, I think.
“I’d read the script. Usually you can get a picture of what the world will be like. And I’ve never done a job where I’ve literally just completely leapt into the unknown, because I didn’t know whether I’d be running around in a green suit, with a purple belt….I thought it was a risk and a brave, bold thing to take on. I will be really interested to watch it unfold because it was a step into the unknown, for everybody. And I think that is commendable. I will watch with baited breath to see what it’s like.”
Filming in South Africa?
Hermione: “It was a bizarre experience because we were a long way from home. We were a long way from all the producers and executive producers and writers. We were all together. Emotions were running high – and you see it…there’s a lot of passion in the acting.”
Stella is more emotional than her role as Ros in Spooks:
Hermione: “Ros was very shut down and emotionally repressed. And Stella…it’s that maternal thing. You’d have to be made of steel not to be removed from your child for 15 years and not have very strong feelings about that. And she’s an emotional creature and very female. As an actress, and getting older as an actress, representing women to be truly female is a difficult thing to do. And I think that Ben’s achieved that with Stella. She’s a strong woman but she’s richly female.”
Ben Richards explained:
“I also had a huge investment in good old Ros, up to the point of blowing her up at the end. I did, yeah, I blew her up. I just wanted to blow her into this show, to be honest. I thought Spooks had had enough of her. It’s very difficult when you have a character as strong as Ros was and so very identifiable. I think in some ways, because of the nature of the show, she was a much more simple character for audiences to grasp. And what she did, she did so ferociously because she was protecting national security….people want to see something different. You can’t just stick Ros in space. That would just be tedious.”
Would Hermione like to return as Stella if there’s a series two?
Hermione: “It is such a massive subject matter. I think this series, it just scratches on the questions it raises, being on a different planet in the future, humanity. And it would be exciting to explore further. It’s a really rich mine that can be tapped. And that is fascinating. Could be.”