Heads Up: The Night Watch

Mummy, what did you get up to during the war?
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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about?

The BBC adaptation of Sarah Waters's bestselling Second World War novel.

Elevator Pitch

The Night Watch turns TV must-watch.

Prime Movers

Screenwriter Paula Milne, who penned Small Island, The Virgin Queen and The Politician's Wife; Richard Laxton, also director of Him & Her, Hancock & Joan, and An Englishman in New York (which picked up the Quentin Crisp story where Naked Civil Servant left off).

The Stars

Anna Maxwell Martin, who won a Bafta for her role as Esther in the 2005 BBC adaptation of Bleak House and recently played Sarah in South Riding. Claire Foy, another Andrew-Davies-does-Dickens graduate (she was Little Dorrit), will be building on the success of recent Peter Kosminksy drama The Promise. Jodie Whittaker, best known for starring in the film Venus alongside Peter O'Toole, also takes a main part.

The Early Buzz

News of the adaptation prompted website Queeried to deem the BBC "the most lesbian-friendly channel on the television", before pointing out that it's not hard to win such a plaudit. After a preview at the BFI's Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the Lesbilicious website gave the following verdict: "[The Night Watch] is cinematic yet embraces the mundane, conjuring up the insecurity of the age, as well as the drastic changes and freedom that came with it, particularly for women."

Insider Knowledge

Waters's latest novel, The Little Stranger, has also been optioned for a film, meaning she's set to be in the rare position of having her entire back catalogue adapted for the screen.

It's great that...

The novel's backwards narrative (it begins in 1947, and moves to 1944, then 1941) hasn't daunted Milne: "Its wayward structure, propelling the story from the present back into the past, [was] simply a challenge I couldn't resist."

It's a shame that...

Keeley Hawes, who was rather good in the TV version of Waters's Tipping the Velvet (another Andrew Davies adaptation) in 2002, had to turn down an offer to star. She wasn't happy about saying no, as she cites TNW as her "favourite book of all time," but a family holiday was already booked.

Hit Potential

Waters's novels usually translate well to the small screen, and it's got a strong cast. But squishing it into a one-off 90-minute drama might prove difficult.

The Details

The Night Watch will air on BBC2 later this spring.