David Suchet is to star as a newspaper press baron in a BBC1 drama charting the competing fortunes of a liberal left broadsheet and a tabloid moving on from the phone-hacking scandal.
The six-part series, Press, is the work of the Doctor Foster and King Charles III writer Mike Bartlett, who has promised a drama that interrogates why news is important and explores the ethical dilemmas reporters and editors face each day.
It is also a series that, he has hinted, will do little to improve the sometimes battered reputation of journalists in the eyes of the wider public.
Bartlettâs tabloid is called the Post, his broadsheet, the Herald. Suchet will play the chairman and CEO of the Postâs publisher, Worldwide News.
Other casting at the Post includes Paapa Essiedu, the Royal Shakespeare Companyâs latest Hamlet, who plays the newspaperâs newest reporter; Shane Zaza, recently in the cast of the Royal Courtâs revival of Road, its news editor; and Ellie Kendrick, Meera Reed in Game of Thrones, as a junior reporter. Ben Chaplin, most recently in BBC1âs Apple Tree Yard, will play the editor.
Two actors who appeared in Bartlettâs TV version of his play King Charles III will play Herald journalists. Charlotte Riley, who played Kate Middleton, has been cast as the deputy news editor while Priyanga Burford is the editor. Brendan Cowell, a rugged Australian actor often called the new Russell Crowe and familiar to Young Vic audiences after his roles in Yerma and Life of Galileo, will play the news editor; and Al Weaver, a young church curate in Grantchester, will play an investigative journalist.
Riley, who in real life is married to Tom Hardy, said Press was a âtruly brilliantâ piece of writing. âMike is a phenomenal storyteller and I am excited to be part of this project.â
Filming for the series will begin in October. Piers Wenger, the controller of BBC drama, said: âThe newspaper business is part of Britainâs identity and Mikeâs gripping series of crusading journalists in this ever-changing industry, brought to life by this brilliantly talented cast, make for a fresh, thrilling and utterly British contemporary drama.â
It is a work of fiction but the Herald may not be a million miles from the Guardian given that Bartlett spent a day, three years ago, shadowing the paperâs newsdesk.
Bartlett was unavailable for interview but he has previously revealed snippets of what to expect. âIâd love to say itâs going to restore journalistsâ reputations but Iâm not convinced it will,â he said in an interview with the Guardian.
âWhat it does do is interrogate why news is important and how we cover it. Itâs also very much a workplace drama set in a very distinct workplace in a time of uncertainty. I know that people might expect the liberal left broadsheet are the heroes and boo the tabloid but itâs more complicated than that. Part of the fun is never letting an audience know which way the show sits.â
Television has a long and patchy history of portraying journalists on screen. The 1970s and 1980s US drama Lou Grant made newspapers look like one of the most exciting and noble careers it was possible to aspire to while Ken Barlow as editor of the Weatherfield Recorder made it less so.
They are often written as obnoxious, overbearing, sleazy alcoholics which is why many journalists were pleased with Paul Abbottâs 2003 drama, State of Play, which â wine at editorial meetings aside â more realistically depicted the working lives and concerns of newspaper journalists.
Press will be directed by Tim Vaughan, also the director of Doctor Foster, and will, the BBC said, follow the lives of journalists âas they attempt to balance work and play, ambition and integrity, amid the never-ending pressure of the 24-hour global news cycle and an industry in turmoilâ.
It will air on BBC1 at some point in 2018 and be shown after that in the US on the channel PBS Masterpiece.