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THIS WEEK REVIEW: ITV Drama Flesh and Blood, filmed on location in Normans Bay


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The new ITV drama Flesh and Blood, filmed in Normans Bay, last summer, broadcasts from tonight, Monday 24 February

Local people wait with anticipation to see if the drama will become the new Broadchurch or whether the drama, broadcast over four consecutive nights, will be quickly forgotten.

The stellar cast suggests that we may be about to see a big hit. The drama is being described as a ‘modern parable’.

How much the residents of Normans Bay will enjoy their new found fame is a different question.

The distinct landscape is both striking and dramatic, somewhat removed from the feel of other seaside locations in East Sussex, a little stark perhaps, but this is what gives the place individuality and, for some people who live here, a breathtaking idiosyncratic beauty.

The decision by the location manager to chose Normans Bay for director Louise Hooper, is one that will have been made carefully. The idiosyncratic and beautiful landscape will no doubt be a character in the drama. She has already described the location as a ‘theatre set’.

How much the people of Normans Bay will enjoy their new found fame is already the subject of local debate.

A degree of anger and irritation has already been expressed on the Bay Life newsfeed, a place where local residents comment on life, the local universe and matters of local significance,

One neighbour complained about the flashing lights in bedrooms when the drama was filmed last summer. The crew, by all accounts, took a great deal of trouble to inform the people of Normans Bay about what was going on and when they might expect activity. No spoilers involved if we tell people that on one night one of the roads was full of ‘ambulances and police’.

Might we be looking at the birth of a modern classic and something that will be commissioned for a second series?

Already there is talk of a potential second series.

Writer Sarah Williams has suggested, “with season one yet to air, questions are already being raised about a potential follow-up series. I could see myself revisiting the family”.

She added, “without explaining too much of what happens, there is further meat on the bone. I love these characters and I did get very attached to all of them. I would love to follow on their story, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves, we have to see if anyone watches this.”

Talking to Megan Hutton at Good Housekeeping, director, Louise Hooper said “I wanted it to be like a modern parable, you’ve got the sea – which you’ve got no control over – you’ve got the shingle and the two houses. A bit like a theatre stage, you’ve got the characters that come into that. There’s no town or city, we’re not anchored to anything so it floats in its own little heightened story… We’re trying to do something different from the gritty, monochromatic noir which is very plot and detail driven. It’s something which is light and funny and joyful I hope”.

Talking about why she took on the part of Vivien, Francesca Annis added insight into the female driven script.

She told Megan Hutton, “I liked that this wasn’t an angst-stricken part – I’ve played quite a few of those. I loved the script and when I met Louise and Sarah Williams, (the writer) and it was very much going to be a female-driven project I thought that was just wonderful. Louise promised she would be very open to suggestion and empowering and that’s exactly what she was. I thought that made the whole project for me quite an exciting adventure.”

On the One Show last Friday, on BBC1, one of the stars in the drama, Imelda Staunton, gave an intriguing clue into what we might expect, starting tonight.

She said about her role and the drama that what we are about to see is ‘not exactly a who dun it, but more a who dun what”. Interesting.

The Daily Mirror has described Flesh and Blood in the same breath as Broadchurch.

Their piece titled Flesh and Blood: New ITV drama about crime by seaside could be new Broadchurch, says that the drama is “a dizzying tale of violence, sex and intrigue”.

They begin their precis by suggesting, “on a moonlit beach on the south coast, police investigate a serious crime. After a family celebration, a forensics team finds blood on a rock. Something terrible happened here…”

Trailers for the drama featured on ITV will now be replaced by the hour long drama from tonight to Thursday.

The story features a stellar cast, including Francesca Annis, Imelda Staunton, Stephen Rea and Russell Tovey.

The original thriller is a modern story of three adult siblings, exploring universal themes of relationships, trust, loyalty and love against the backdrop of the build-up to, and aftermath of, a tragic crime.

The already dysfunctional lives of Helen, Jake and Natalie are thrown into disarray when their recently widowed mother Vivien declares she’s in love with a new man. Their suspicions are heightened as retired surgeon Mark sweeps their mother off her feet, shifting her priorities away from her children.

Years of secrets, lies, rivalries and betrayals come to the surface and threaten to blow apart everything they’ve held dear.

The early rushes on viewing figure will be available on Tuesday, when probably we will get to hear whether three million or six million people have tuned into the new drama that starts tonight on ITV.

If the audience builds over the four nights, the possibility that that drama will be re-commissioned will increase.

What the people of Normans Bay will make of their distinct individual landscape with a breathtaking and idiosyncratic beauty, becoming a broadcast brochure to over three million people will no doubt be the subject of local discussion in local cafes this week.

In the early 1930s, when the futuristic art deco inspired Beachlands estate was built here, down the road from where the drama location for Flesh and Blood is set, charabanc trips giving guided tours of the estate were in vogue.

People still come from as far afield as Scotland to see the Breachlands estate, study the architecture and blog about the delights that they have seen, which are now a more recognised part of the art deco seaside story in this country.

The prospect of Normans Bay becoming a tourist attraction with coaches coming to visit the location where Flesh and Blood is set, is not one that is likely to be welcomed by the people of Normans Bay.

Having said that, from the point of view of economic regeneration, a young company setting up such trips could see a number of new jobs for local people. That might make an interesting addition to our visitor profile literature.

Close to a million pounds has been spent on the newly restored Bay Hotel in Pevensey Bay.

The new management will be seeking new opportunities to profile the hotel.

They may already be looking at the possibility of Flesh and Blood group bookings for TV tourists to Normans Bay.

Bay Life talked to the new manager of the Bay Hotel last week. She is clearly very experienced as an operations manager. She has extensive technical skills and an acute understanding of wider questions about the delivery of services in a social context. She is go ahead, dynamic and event focused.

The brilliant bespoke Bed and Breakfast, the Limes in Westham, together with the class act that is the Priory Court Hotel in Pevensey, may now set up ‘Flesh and Blood location’ tourist style group booking opportunities.

The consequence of the broadcast of the drama from the point of view of incoming tourism and Normans Bay as a visitor destination could be significant, as has been shown with Broadchurch and the harbour village of West Bay in Dorset.

After accounting for time-delayed viewing, Broadchurch averaged 9.2 million viewers per episode. This made the drama the ITV highest-rated weekday drama series since 2004.

The drama, Flesh and Blood could be transformative to the local economy from the point of view of Normans Bay as a visitor destination.

Time will tell if this will happen, much will depend on the success of the drama.

With a stellar cast and an interesting female driven script, the signs are pointing in the direction of success.

Whether this success would be welcomed by the people of Normans Bay will be a moot pint.

Flesh and Blood is broadcasts tonight, Monday 24 February on ITV at 9:00pm and is broadcast over four consecutive nights,

Four resident reviewers, including Maggie Geary, who has a walk on part as an extra in the drama, will give their views of the first episode in the pages of Bay Life on Tuesday, following the broadcast.

Simon Montgomery