NewsUCA Farnham

Directing Poldark

A filmmaker who learnt his craft at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Farnham is to have the lid lifted on his major new work when it’s broadcast on BBC1 this Sunday.

Will McGregor, who graduated from Digital Film and Screen Arts (DFSA) in 2010, was commissioned by the BBC to direct their new Sunday night prime-time period drama Poldark, a modern adaptation of Winston Graham‘s classic novel series starring The Hobbit’s Aidan Turner.

Brought in by the BBC to direct episodes five to eight, as well as the series’ opening sequence, Will was approached about the position off the back of his previous work, which includes directing episodes of E4’s BAFTA-winning Misfits and Pepsi’s inventive Super Bowl advert.

“It was almost exactly a year ago that I was reading the scripts for it, and it was something that was quite moving and epic and dramatic, and something I thought would be quite fun to do,” said Will, who is originally from Norfolk.

“So I went along for the meeting, it went quite well and they offered me the job, which I was quite surprised about because I think traditionally you’d go with a more experienced director for a Sunday night TV drama on the BBC.”

Set in 1783, Poldark tells the story of a young-man’s turbulent return to his Cornish home following the American War of Independence. It’s the second time the BBC has adapted the novel series, having previously made two series between 1975 and 1977.

With much of his previous work based in a contemporary setting, Will said he was excited about being given the opportunity to work on a period piece set on the beautiful Cornish coast, in which the themes were still relevant today.

“I really enjoy period dramas set in a historical context. If you can escape the everyday through history or through fantasy, it enables a different level of storytelling. You can tell stories such as Poldark – which is about the relationship between a community and the hierarchy, and of the social unrest – without feeling like you’re shoving it down people throats,” said Will.

“That’s what I really enjoy about something that is its own genre like Poldark, there’s just something satisfying about filming a world where there’s these period costumes, and period houses, which you can really escape to and build this different world. That’s something I find very appealing on an aesthetic level.”

Despite being given some of the series’ most grandiose scenes to shoot, including a shipwreck and a riot, Will said it was the more intimate, character-lead scenes that he found were the most daunting to be put in charge of.

“It’s funny, the bigger more dramatic scale things I actually feel more comfortable with.  I think that’s probably because of the commercials I’ve worked on, where you have three days, a giant set, and a huge crew - I sort of have that. Big sets and lots of people, that side of it I’m used to.

“What I probably found more daunting, was when it’s scaled down and it’s all about making sure you’re getting an honest performance. With such a character lead piece, especially the love triangle, those scenes are almost more daunting than the big set pieces, as you have to make sure what you’re doing on the day, in a really rushed schedule, is honest, otherwise people don’t buy into it.”

With Poldark wrapped and about to hit TV screens in the UK this week, and the US in June, Will now has to decide what his next project will be. He’s currently working on his debut feature film The Rising with the BFI and former BAFTA chairman Hilary Bevan, although he admits he’s in a quandary as to whether to commit to that full time, or continue looking for opportunities in TV.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” said Will. “Does Poldark get decommissioned? Does it go down well? I’m sure it will, I’ve loved doing it.

“But at the same time, if I have the opportunity to do it again, I don’t know if I’d rather take on a new challenge. I think it’s one of those thing where you see if it comes around, but I feel like everything I do I want to try something new, or take a step forward, so to spend another year of my life on Poldark would mean I’d committed two years to the same project, which is quite a commitment.

“What’s quite incredible is that even though Poldark isn’t yet out – I guess because of the buzz around it – I’m getting sent infinitely more scripts than I was post-Misfits.

“I’m getting to read a lot of stuff and there’s lots of good scripts, but I get to be quite selective,” said Will.

Poldark premiers this Sunday, March 8, on BBC1.