Acting legend David Morrissey is talking about his latest role as Detective Chief Superintendent Ian St Clair in the new Nottinghamshire-based drama Sherwood.
Written by Ashfield-born screenwriter and playwright James Graham, the six-part BBC One drama explores the renewed tensions in a former mining communities following a double murder and the police’s efforts to link the two.
The official blurb describes the show as: “Inspired in part by real events, set in a Nottinghamshire mining village at the heart of Sherwood lie two shocking and unexpected killings that shatter an already fractured community and spark a massive manhunt.
“As suspicion and antipathy build – both between lifelong neighbours and towards the police forces who descend on the town – the tragic killings threaten to inflame historic divisions sparked during the miners' strike three decades before.”
Graham grew up in Kirkby and attended Ashfield School where he developed his passion for drama and writing, and he says it is his own experiences of growing up in that former mining community that inspired the show.
But really, it could be any similar community, anywhere in North Nottinghamshire.
And those divisions are real, with Nottinghamshire miners balloting to carry on working during the year-long confrontation, and just 25 per cent of miners going out on strike in the county.
Whole communities were split into ‘scabs’ and ‘strikers’, and now almost 40 years later, those divisions still exist.
It divided friends and families, rifts that still go on to this day – people still crossing the street if they see certain other people coming towards them; shops and pubs still boycotted, ‘because that’s where the scabs went’.
The strike also created the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), which opposed the action and declared it ‘unlawful’.
“These divides may be more subtle these days,” Morrissey says, “but they are still there. Somebody may know they don’t like somebody else, but not why they don’t like them . . . and it’s important to examine that.”
Morrissey, perhaps best known for his roles as the Governor in The Walking Dead, as Gordon Brown in The Deal, and dodgy politician Stephen Collins in State of Play, travelled to Nottinghamshire and spoke to former police officers and NUM members as part of his research, although representatives from the UDM were not to be found, he says.
His character is a career copper, tasked with finding the link between the two killings, and is forced to bring in an old rival from the Met, played by Hustle star Robert Glenister, whose return only looks set to heighten already swelling tensions.
“It’s about a community being forced to look back at its own history, and a character who is also forced to confront his own past,” he adds.
But the drama is topical in other ways as well, exploring the demise of the ‘Red ‘Wall’ and Conservative wins in traditional Labour seats, like Mansfield and Ashfield.
Downton Abbey and Liar, Liar actor Joanne Froggatt plays Sarah, a young woman fighting to become a Conservative councillor in a traditionally Labour-dominated community.
Speaking ahead of a red carpet premiere at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema on Monday, she says: “For me it’s always about the script and there’s something about my character which is quite unlikeable and that’s always good fun to play.
“It shows the next generation of a community and how it’s moving forward. Some of the divisions are more stifled, but others are not. People always seem to want the community they once knew.”
Both Morrissey and Froggatt say Graham was the principal reason for them wanting to get involved.
Morrissey describes him as ‘our greatest current dramatist’, while Froggatt says the writer has “done the most incredible job with the script’.
“It’s a study of this community, but it’s also a political thriller and a crime drama all at once,” she adds.
And Graham certainly is more than a rising star of the industry, with an Olivier Award for his political comedy Labour of Love, which starred Hobbit actor Martin Freeman in the West End, and features a fictitious Nottinghamshire MP; and Brexit: The Uncivil War, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as former Tory spin doctor Dominic Cummings, and won a BAFTA.
He says it’s a project he ‘needed to grow into as a writer’ and that ‘It is a travesty that more drama is not set in North Nottinghamshire’.
The drama is loosely based on the killing of former miner Keith Frogson by a neighbour in 2004, and Terry Rodgers, who murdered his daughter Chantel with a shotgun just weeks after walking her down the aisle.
Both cases led to the prime suspects retreating into nearby woodland and massive police manhunts to bring them to justice.
But Graham says his decision to fictionalise the events was a way of avoiding adding to the divisions, to make it less about real families, real lives.
He says: “I was always worried – given the hard-to-believe nature of the real events – that someone from the outside would one day parachute in and adapt this for the big screen in a flashy and insensitive way and that, as a local lad, I had a responsibility if I could to try to delicately explore it first.
“It’s one of the reasons I took the decision to fictionalise the story, with new names and characters, so that it is not a literal adaptation but a few steps removed.”
Sherwood, a six-part drama, airs on BBC One on Mondays and Tuesdays at 9pm, from Monday, June 13.