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Led by an all-female team, ITV Studios-owned Monumental Television is on a high with co-pros, a hit US remake and a commission for AMC

The Monumental Television team is a powerhouse of female creatives. Launched in 2014, the indie quickly put itself on the map as a scripted TV force by securing three series of the critically acclaimed Hulu drama Harlots.

Alison Carpenter

Alison Carpenter

Creative director Alison Carpenter joined Monumental to executive produce the show and, for her, it encapsulates everything the ITV Studios company is about. “It’s what made me join – I read the script and thought, ‘I just have to make this show’,” she says.

Between them, Monumental founders Alison Owen and Debra Hayward had enjoyed huge success as producers of bold, popular, female-centred films with star casts, including Suffragette, The Other Boleyn Girl, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Pride & Prejudice. With Harlots, they brought this to bear on TV, with Lesley Manville, Samantha Morton and Jessica Brown-Findlay among those playing sex workers in 18th-century London.

Carpenter sums up Monumental’s output as “unashamedly mainstream, in the best possible sense”, adding: “That means making the highest-quality shows for the broadest audience – finding the best writers, the best directors, and producing everything as rigorously and ambitiously as we can.

“Harlots was big, ambitious and had high production values – and it was written by women, about women and directed by women. This was at a time when it was still weirdly non-mainstream to do that, but for us, it’s always been completely natural that your directors list on a show like this starts with women.”



Another huge hit followed when BBC1 commissioned Ghosts. Carpenter had executive produced the creative team’s Sky series Yonderland, and they asked her to join them on a show that began quite modestly but soon became one of the most successful family comedies in years, with a hugely successful US remake to boot.

“On this and Harlots, I knew that what I hoped the show would be in my head matched the show we’d made, which is a lovely feeling,” Carpenter says. She’s understandably bittersweet that this autumn’s fifth series marks the end. “I would carry on making it forever but it’s absolutely the writers’ decision – and we want to go out on a high.”

The US version, which airs on CBS, is the most successful UK-to-US comedy remake since The Office and has now eclipsed the original in terms of episodes, with a third season on the way. “The process has been so interesting to me as a producer,” she says. “It’s extraordinary, because you just don’t assume or even dream that that can happen.”

Ghosts US

Ghosts US

Fortunately, Monumental has a trio of new shows to keep Hayward, Owen and Carpenter busy. UKTV/Masterpiece co-pro The Marlow Murder Club is adapted from Death In Paradise creator Rob Thorogood’s novel, which Hayward devoured then urged Carpenter to read.

It centres on a trio of women who uncover cases that challenge the bucolic Buckinghamshire town’s reputation as the place with the greatest life-expectancy in the UK.

“As a predominantly female company, we are always going to be interested in stories by women and about women,” Carpenter says.

“These characters are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and all a bit adrift, but they form this unexpected friendship. It’s brilliantly plotted over two 120-minute episodes, but the appeal of cosy crime for me is that it’s character-driven. There’s joy in coming back to characters that you love and seeing how these friendships develop.”

Female lead

Acorn TV’s Mrs Sidhu Investigates, starring Meera Syal, also puts a mature female amateur sleuth centre stage, though this project has had a much longer gestation. Carpenter worked up the idea with creator Suk Pannu at Working Title, but amid an appetite at the time for more action-led shows like Spooks, Hustle and Luther, it didn’t quite land with broadcasters, she says.

Mrs Sidhu

Mrs Sidhu Investigates

Instead, it was made for Radio 4 by Absolutely Productions. When the show’s producer – and one of the indie’s founders – actor Gordon Kennedy was in series three of Harlots, Carpenter got to talking about a TV version again.

With 90-minute episodes, the comedy-drama can dig deeper into the title character than the half-hour radio comedy. Mrs Sidhu, who has a Miss Marple-like ability to solve crimes by slipping into the background, is an Asian woman in her 50s who runs a company catering for the well-to-do, with Line Of Duty’s Craig Parkinson chalking up another police role as her partner in solving crime.

Having played Mrs Sidhu on the radio for six years, Syal is, says Carpenter, “solidly invested” in this version, writing additional material, and part of the writing team if a second series is greenlit.

The show shares a light touch with Ghosts and even Harlots, which despite tackling weighty topics of consent, female agency and exploitation, always had a wicked sense of fun.

“All of our drama has something comic about it,” says Carpenter. “I find it weird when I watch dramas where people are serious all the time, because life is never really like that.”

Finally, there’s Sanctuary: A Witch’s Tale, Poldark writer Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of VV James’ novel for AMC. This time it was Owen who thrust it under Carpenter’s nose, declaring that “everything about it is brilliant”, recalls Carpenter. “And it is – it’s one of those rare books that’s so gripping that you can’t go to sleep because you have to keep reading it.”

It is also female-led, with Elaine Cassidy swapping the more fantastical world of Sky’s A Discovery Of Witches for one in which witches are presented as part of the everyday array of regulated medical practitioners, with tension provided by the underlying politics, history and crime within the witchcraft community.

“As she showed with Poldark, Debbie’s really good at taking something that exists and working out how to reinvent it and expand it for TV in a slightly different way,” Carpenter says.

“We have total creative freedom, but with the backing of a much greater entity”
Alison Carpenter, creative director, Monumental Television

Co-productions, a US network remake and an AMC commission – being part of the ITV Studios family certainly helps maintain a strong international profile for Monumental. What does Carpenter feel about how the indie fits into the wider group?

“We still have to remind ourselves that we’re not an indie,” she says. “ITV Studios lets us retain that mentality while offering expertise and guidance at board level about where to aim our shows, but it’s never a diktat. It’s total creative freedom, but with the backing of a much greater entity.”