‘It’s a love letter to what sport can and should be, but it’s also an unflinching look at it’

PRODUCER World Productions
LENGTH 6 x 60 minutes
BROADCASTER Amazon Prime Video UK

From World Productions (Bodyguard; Line Of Duty; The Suspect), Fifteen-Love is a sports drama that follows a former teenage prodigy as she makes peace with the premature end of her elite tennis career. But the past catches up on all involved when she makes accusations against her coach.

The story teases out timely themes of truth, trust, power, identity and exploitation in the world of sport.

After writer and creator Hania Elkington (The Innocents; The Essex Serpent) began working on the script, tennis stars Pam Shriver and Fiona Ferro came forward with revelations against their coaches of inappropriate sexual conduct. And showing the broader pressures of the sport, both Emma Raducanu and Naomi Osaka have pulled out of Grand Slam tournaments due to mental health issues.

“With Fifteen-Love, the idea of young athletes whose bodies are almost shared commodities between a team of people crossed over with my interest in writing a sports narrative,” says Elkington. “It’s a love letter to what sport can and should be, but it’s also an unflinching look at it.”

World Productions head of drama Jake Lushington is Elkington’s real-life partner, and Fifteen-Love is their first joint project.

Lushington says: “I had a very good first-look deal here. Apart from my loyalty as a partner, I was interested in this as a producer because our society has looked at the dynamics between men and women in school and in showbusiness, but I hadn’t seen it in such depth in the world of sport. I said that by the time we make it, everybody would be talking about it, and that seems to be true.”

Directed by Eva Riley and Toby Macdonald, the six episodes, which are now in post-production, are due to launch on Amazon Prime Video UK later this year.

The universal and topical nature of the story suggests it’s ripe for global audiences. It’s already sold in the Nordics and there’s “high interest in seeing the first episode” when it’s ready, says Lushington.

It helps that the series has an international cast, with Lorenzo Richelmy (Marco Polo; Hotel Portofino) playing the Italian French Open winner, the French-Palestinian Manon Azem (Ghost Brothers; Burnt Out) playing Glenn’s wife and Jessica Darrow (Encanto) as an American love interest.

The central character of Justine Pearce is played by newcomer Ella Lily Hyland, who drew on her experience as a pole vaulter for Ireland.

“She has the understanding of what it means to have your body become a tool to achieve things,” says Lushington. “But apart from that, she’s a phenomenal actress, and a breakout star for this piece I hope.”

National Television Award winner Aidan Turner (Poldark; Being Human) plays Pearce’s coach Glenn Lapthorn. Like Turner’s character Dr Joe O’Loughlin in The Suspect, Lapthorn straddles the line between trustworthy and corrupt.

Elkington says: “Aidan took an enormous leap and showed his range with The Suspect. With Fifteen-Love, I don’t think people are going to know what’s hit them.”