My agent Matthew Dench has always been very keen that I direct a cop or detective show. Most of the scripts that came in felt a little formulaic… until DALGLEISH. It’s a Channel 5 TV series based on the novels by PD James, Phyllis James, who named her super-sleuth Adam Dalgleish after an English teacher she had at high school. As I’ve explained to many taxi drivers – nothing to do with the footballer Kenny Dalgleish!
The thing that captured my imagination (aside of the excellent adaptation by Helen Edmundson, winner of many awards for her work in the theatre) was the lead character. He writes poetry – not bawdy limericks, but sensitive, soul-searching poems. Straight away that put the show in a different category. A poet who solves crimes?!?
Dalgleish himself is very quiet, and still. He’s one of life’s observers. He very rarely raises his voice, and only speaks when it matters. In short – he’s an introvert. In the world of modern TV drama that felt very different to me, in a good way.
Borrowing a phrase from Susan Cain’s book QUIET I’d describe myself as a “pseudo extrovert”. An introvert by birth who’s learned, over the years, to enjoy crowds and make the most of extroverted situations. Last October I stood on stage at the Sitges Film Festival and spoke to a huge audience of 1400 people. I wasn’t nervous at all, not really – but if I go back to my teenage years, I’d have been utterly terrified, my heart beating out of my chest. It’s nothing to do with confidence, I’ve always felt very confident… I wouldn’t say I was shy, either.
We live in an era where the extrovert is king. People get paid a fortune for letting it all hang out, for having a loud mouth and big opinions. Dalgleish is set in 1976 which not only makes it from a different era, it feels like it’s completely out of step with the 2023 extrovert army. There’s a quiet, intelligent rhythm to the series which you have to tune into. I’ve directed a lot of comedy drama and there are next to no jokes in DALGLEISH – he’s not that sort of man. That was an interesting contrast, too.
Although the show is set in a murder museum on the edge of Hampstead Heath I got to travel back to Belfast to shoot it, which I always enjoy. I was reunited with some old friends on the crew. And we had a fantastic cast of colourful character actors who had great fun leaning into the tropes of a murder mystery. We even had a scene where Dalgleish (brilliantly played by the uber talented Bertie Carvel) gathered all the museum staff in the library to announce “this is now a murder investigation”. Cue shifty looks between all the suspects. I’ve never directed anything like this so it was great fun to dig into these Agatha Christie-ish moments. I loved the period costumes, the hairstyles, the baroque detail in the sets.
Thank you, Adam Dalgleish, for reminding me that introverts can be heroes, too!