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
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments