‘We’ve seen huge interest across all the markets you would expect, but also countries you wouldn’t’
Distributor Keshet International
Producers Ecosse Films; Great Meadow Productions
Length 6 x 60 minutes
Broadcaster BBC1 (UK)
As the inaugural project picked by Keshet International (KI) for its multimillion-pound global drama fund, The Trial Of Christine Keeler is a series for which the distributor clearly has high hopes.
Produced by Ecosse Films for BBC1, it tackles the notorious 1963 British political scandal around then-secretary of state for war John Profumo’s affair with 19-year-old Christine Keeler.
The relationship had far-reaching effects for the UK government because of Keeler’s simultaneous involvement with Russian naval attaché Yevgeny Ivanov – whom she met through mutual friend Stephen Ward – which potentially posed a security risk.
The six-part drama is written by Amanda Coe, who adapted Louise Doughty’s novel Apple Tree Yard for BBC1. Like all fact-based drama, there is plenty of source material to draw from, but Ecosse wanted to change the narrative surrounding the history of the case.
“It occurred to me that it would be very interesting to see the entire maelstrom of the story through the viewpoint of a young woman, as opposed to how it had previously been seen, which was from the point of view of John Profumo or Stephen Ward,” says Kate Triggs, executive producer for Ecosse Films.
“It felt like absolutely the right time to see this story through the lens of a young woman.”
Consequently, the drama is almost completely stewarded by female creatives – including editors, director, exec producers and writer. Triggs says this “female gaze” gives the affair a much-needed reassessment.
“More of an issue was how she was seen as a woman at the time, and how she was portrayed throughout her entire life,” says Triggs, noting that accusations Keeler had been a sex worker continued until her death in 2017. “Christine was still beneath people’s dignity and victimised when she died.”
The producers wanted to counter this view by creating a story of an “incredibly brave and strong person who wouldn’t be shut up”, says Triggs, adding that the series is “a Danielle and Goliath story”. As such, the subjects covered are “incredibly pertinent today”, dealing with “universal and perennial themes of sex, politics and power”.
Series producer Rebecca Ferguson says Coe’s writing ensures the contemporary relevance of an affair that happened more than half a century ago.
“You read a lot of scripts, and not many land on your desk that embody such huge political landscapes, and with a young woman at the centre,” she says. “Amanda’s take on the affair is brilliantly contemporary, even though it’s a period drama. She has a way of enlivening Christine that she could have been any woman, in any time.
“There are themes at play historically that are still in play now – men in positions of authority who use their influence and power to shut up anyone who threatens them. I’d like it to create a debate and for all those modern parallels to be in people’s minds when they think about the story.”
Although the budget is under wraps, KI’s early involvement through its fund has given the drama extra financial support, which “can really be seen on screen”, according to the distributor’s vice-president of sales Rose Hughes.
She believes the high-end feel and universal topics mean The Trial Of Christine Keeler can “play across many countries”, and says she has already closed several presales.
“We’ve seen a huge amount of interest across all the markets you would expect to connect with a period and star-led show, but also in countries where you wouldn’t always think there would be an affiliation,” she adds.
Selling the BBC1 drama, which stars Sophie Cookson, James Norton and Ben Miles, KI will target all platforms in multiple windows.