A fare to remember: David Nicholls reveals the inspiration for his new BBC drama The 7.39

The script owes more to a Kinks classic than Brief Encounter, the One Day author tells Gerard Gilbert

A man and a woman, quietly dissatisfied with their home lives, are thrown together and begin a relationship while travelling to and from London on a train. Does that sound at all familiar?

However, David Nicholls, author of the best-selling romantic novel One Day and who has now scripted The 7.39 for the BBC, says that his influence was not David Lean's 1945 movie classic Brief Encounter, but the classic Kinks' 1967 ditty "Waterloo Sunset". "The idea came up to do dramas based on songs, and the song we hit on was "Waterloo Sunset" – so that was the working title of it," he says. "I liked this idea of confinement – two people forced to spend time with each other and how over a period of time their relationship might change."

In Nicholls' two-part BBC1 drama The 7.39, David Morrissey plays Carl, a 45-year-old married middle- manager who elbows his way on to the same train each morning – "12 years, no parole… five weeks for good behaviour", as he puts it to fellow commuter Sally (Sheridan Smith), a manager at a health club whose boyfriend wants them to settle down and have babies. Carl and Sally get off to a bad start when they squabble over a seat, but soon they bond over a shared hatred of their daily slog. "The sort of people you see on train stations… the 'hellos' and 'goodbyes'," says Nicholls. "Even though commuting to me seemed quite a gruelling experience it also seemed to have the potential for a bittersweet romantic story.

"Obviously it's impossible to ignore Brief Encounter, but we definitely set out to go in a different direction, to deal as much with the aftermath of the affair. Brief Encounter is a brilliant film but you feel rather as if the cards are stacked against their home life where the kids are always screaming and the husband is always behind a newspaper. I mean I wonder how Brief Encounter would be if you saw Trevor Howard's wife and she was terrific".

Carl's wife in 7.39, Maggie, is played by Olivia Colman, and his home life is depicted as warm, outwardly happy – and predictable. "I can see Carl's view," says Colman. "He's unappreciated. You can why it happens – although he's just forgotten that the life he has is actually very nice."

It's in the second episode that the 7.39 really branches away from Brief Encounter, as the fallout from Carl and Sally's affair is explored in heartbreaking scenes between Morrissey and Colman. "What's beautiful about it is that you get to see the repercussions, unlike Brief Encounter where it's sort of brushed over at the end," says Colman. "It's kind of important also to realise that after this fun romance – these little frissons on a train – there are going to be repercussions."

"It's about wanting what you haven't got," reckons Sheridan Smith, who plays Sally. "She's got this young, puppy-like man at home who wants to get her pregnant, but she wants some wildness in her life. You shouldn't really feel for her but you do… you can't really help who you fall in love with."

While Nicholls says that, as a cyclist and home-working author, he has never commuted in his life, Colman recalls the grimly repetitive journeying of her youth. "I spent years working as a temp and I hated the commute so much," she says. "That's beautifully done where the doors open and they've got fists in each other's backs, and not getting a seat. It used to make me feel angry, so you can really see if there was a little outlet there you might go for it."

"I'm not bright enough to be a commuter," laughs Smith." I worked in a burger bar. And acting is constantly different, but even so, when I was doing Legally Blonde for a year and a half the same thing all the time for 500-odd shows… it's tiring."

Olivia Coleman in BBC1's 'The 7.39' (BBC) Olivia Coleman in BBC1's 'The 7.39' (BBC)
Unlike in Smith's Bafta-winning ITV drama Mrs Biggs, in which she played the wife of the recently deceased Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs and where the train was stationary and rocked to simulate movement, an actual working train was hired in The 7.39. "We had a train at Waterloo Station that the whole crew would get on and it would go wherever… you really see London go by which is really important because it's about that commute," says Smith, although an accident on the line meant that she nearly didn't get to the Bafta ceremony to receive her Leading Actress award for Mrs Biggs – and was the reason she looked so flustered and surprised at winning. "Our producer had to ring ahead to the Baftas, and they said 'don't worry… it's fine'. And because they weren't that bothered whether I was late or not I was convinced I hadn't got it. I made it literally 10 minutes before my award."

One aspect that remains disregarded in the drama is the age-gap between Sally and Carl, for, not to put too fine a point on it, David Morrissey is old enough to be Sheridan Smith's father. "I've always found David handsome," says Smith with a lubricious chuckle. "Anyway, they're kindred spirits and the age-gap doesn't matter." Colman agrees: "It never cropped up in my head because it just seemed they were the characters necessary to help each other out."

"Sheridan is younger than David and I think it is a bit of a cliché," says Nicholls, who started writing for television with ITV's acclaimed relationship drama Cold Feet. "But I think it's more about their situations than their age." Why does he think there are so few love stories on television as compared to, say, thrillers? "Love stories get a bad press really – for a start they're something that men are forbidden to watch and I don't see why that should be the case. I think falling in love is a much more common experience than meeting a serial killer."

'The 7.39' begins on Monday at 9pm on BBC1

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future