BBCs releases new murder mystery Sherwood featuring an all-star cast

BBCs releases new murder mystery Sherwood featuring an all-star cast

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Now a gripping new TV thriller explores the deep divisions that continue to split towns, villages and even families between those who went on strike, those vilified as “scabs” for crossing picket lines, and those who had to police the mayhem. 

While the officers sent in to defend public order are often portrayed as truncheon-waving baddies, many were left traumatised by the experience, particularly those who lived in mining communities.

BBC One drama Sherwood, with an allstar cast including David Morrissey, Robert Glenister, Lesley Manville, Alun Armstrong, Joanne Froggatt, Lindsay Duncan and Stephen Tompkinson, explores the crisis through a contemporary murder mystery – which threatens to inflame conflicts from three decades earlier during the strike.

The six-part series begins when a former striking miner from a Nottinghamshire colliery is murdered with a bow and arrow, hours after branding someone a “scab” during a bitter row in a local working men’s club.

The killer escapes into surrounding Sherwood Forest. Much of the series was shot on location on a housing estate outside Manchester, where the terraced cottages provide the perfect backdrop for a close former pit village.

Nearby is the Astley and Tyldesley Miners’ Welfare Institute, a still-operational reminder of years gone by, and the scene of my interviews with the cast on an unseasonably hot day with the smell of beer lingering on the soft furnishings.

David Morrissey, relaxing in T-shirt and sunglasses after finishing his scenes for the day, explains: “The location is wonderful in the sense that you can see how it would be difficult for a fractured community to be living so close to each other. They’re literally overlooking each other.”

“Before I saw the location, I knew my character would have strong memories of people on street corners and places and alleyways, and this provides all that.” 

Morrissey, who plays Detective Chief Superintendent Ian St Clair, leading the murder investigation, continues: “There’s a murder of a guy who was a striking miner. Because Ian knows the community, he’s very aware this could open up old wounds from the strike, and reignite those old divisions.

“He’s very in tune with the community and he can see that it’s like a cancer because people are accusing each other and won’t let the past go.”

But when a second murder happens – committed by a different killer unconnected to the strike – the stage is set for a tense thriller. 

The story, written by James Graham who also wrote Quiz, about the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? scandal, is loosely based on a real-life story, as Lesley Manville explains.

“It was really rather extraordinary,” she says, “because these deaths were not connected and yet both killers were hiding out in Sherwood Forest.”

“Because of the forest’s density, the police’s heat-seeking aircraft could not find them, so it was a manhunt in this huge area, the biggest manhunt in UK history at the time.”

Robert Glenister’s character, Detective Inspector Kevin Salisbury, is one of the Metropolitan police officers called in to help clarify why reports about the murder victim’s involvement in the strike have huge amounts of redacted information.

His presence causes locals to be suspicious, sparking memories of the Met’s involvement in the 1984 strike, and ties into a wider plot line about the infamous “spy cops” – officers rumoured to have been planted within the community to feed information back to the police.

Glenister says: “What James has done very cleverly is to have these two fugitives going into Sherwood Forest, and eventually the Nottinghamshire Police can’t cope with it. And who do they get to help them? The Metropolitan Police. So it comes full circle.”

“Initially Kevin comes up because he might know why the information about the murder victim has been redacted. It turns out they think one of the victims of the murders has some connection between the community and a spy cop.”

“Is there a spy cop still in the community? Is there a residual person who was sent here 40-odd years ago who didn’t go back with the other members of the Metropolitan Police, but stayed? Or went back and came back, and inveigled themselves into society?”

“I don’t know whether there were spy cops infiltrating the miners [in real life]. We do know that this department in the Met was formed in the Sixties and that they did infiltrate Greenpeace: they did form relationships with members of Greenpeace, who unknowingly committed themselves to relationships with them. Some even had children.”

“So, the spy cop concept is interesting, because we still don’t know to what degree that unit, or an offshoot of that unit, is operating within the country. We haven’t got a clue.”

Glenister, who is half-Welsh and had several great-uncles who worked in the mining industry, says Sherwood aims to show how much pressure young officers were under at the time to obey orders and quell the rebellion.

“There are photographs of policemen without any identification on their lapels so they couldn’t be identified,” he says. “And the Met police had these stickers made: if they had a confrontation with a miner, and if they roughed him up a bit, they put a sticker on him saying ‘I’ve met the Met.’ They were all-powerful.”

“The police are far more scrutinised now than they were then, so you forget that they were pretty much given carte blanche.”

“For those who remember that time who lived, or live still, in those communities, there must be a residual resentment and residual contempt for the way that was conducted.”

“[But] James isn’t saying, ‘Police bad, miners good’. He’s dealing with this huge subject, but from individual points of view.”

“It’s about a community, and how they’re trying to mend themselves, and have been trying to mend themselves perhaps for many years.”

 “Those young police officers who came here, they had no choice. It wasn’t as if they said, ‘OK, if you don’t want to go you don’t have to, don’t worry’. They said, ‘You go and you stay there till it’s sorted’.”

“That’s shown cleverly in flashbacks to 1984 when you see them as inexperienced, vulnerable, frightened young officers.”

For Morrissey, one of the key themes is not so much to do with the individual officers, but the greater forces who manipulate such investigations.

He says: “Many decisions are made by governments which they know will get them through this crisis they’re in at this moment, but that when that comes out years later, whether it’s the 30-year law of secrecy being lifted on documentation, that that will be somebody else’s problem to solve. That’s something that goes on all the time.” 

Another thread shows Sarah Vincent (Joanne Froggatt) campaigning to be a Conservative councillor in what is traditionally a hard- Labour constituency: one of the so-called “Red Wall” areas.

“Her political views differ from the bulk of her community. She is very opinionated and believes in going against the grain which does rub many people up the wrong way in the process,” says Froggatt.

For all of the cast, one joy of working on Sherwood was the opportunity to research a real-life period.

Morrissey interviewed several miners and police officers involved in the strikes at the time and says he got into the mood for filming by remembering how he took part in CND marches as a student.

Glenister also raided his own memory bank. He says: “I do remember it. I was in my 20s when it happened, so I remember the speeches. My dad was very political and my mother had a connection toWelsh mining.

“I remember my father screaming at Thatcher on the screen. He was, and still is, an intelligent, bright man but he was incredibly angry.”

Meanwhile, Manville, who plays murder victim’s wife Julie Jackson, has even more vivid memories of that time, as she went to Barnsley during the strike to research a play she was in at London’s Royal Court Theatre about the women behind the pit closures.

“I was 23,” she recalls. “We went to a picket line. It was horses and riot shields. I really lost my bottle and I had to leave.”

“I was sort of wandering around Barnsley looking for a bus at five in the morning to get me out of there.”

“During this time we interviewed all these women who were wives or girlfriends of the men who were striking, and their support was very key. They had to make the money. They had to put the food on the table with no money. It caused a lot of family friction and tension.”

“The Jacksons in this series have been through that. You see them at the beginning of the story as a kind of life-force, you see them being such great warm, giving, loving, funny grandparents and then of course this huge event happens and Gary is killed.”

But despite the political background, more than anything, Sherwood is also a psychological thriller.

As Morrissey surmises: “Ian was there on the front line. He’s deeply scarred by what happened to him as a young police officer. So it affects his judgement and it affects his home life because he still is in some sort of trauma himself – as is the community – from what happened in 1984.

“They were in a community that was pitched against each other and the scars of that are still being played out today.”

Sherwood starts on Monday at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer

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