BBC drama will break sex and disability taboo

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The Independent Online

Two people with severe learning disabilities are to star alongside Christopher Eccleston in a BBC drama about sex and the disabled.

Dorothy Cockin and Peter Kirby have been chosen after an extensive search among people with learning disabilities in the north-west of England for the roles in the groundbreaking 90-minute film, Flesh and Blood.

They play the parents of Christopher Eccleston's character Joe Broughton, who was adopted as a child. He tracks them down after the birth of his own daughter and is shocked to discover they are in a mental institution and do not know they had a child.

The script by Neil Bowker, who spent 12 years as a special-needs teacher in institutions which included hospitals for the mentally disabled, examines what happens to Joe as he learns about his parent's lives and tries to come to terms with them.

Derek Wax, the film's producer, said: "It's quite a taboo subject and I think this film will hopefully help to break down some of the taboos. The experience of growing adjustment [by Christopher Eccleston's character] in the film is one we would hope to take the audience through. But it's not a terribly reverential issues-based piece."

The production team spent several weeks visiting and watching members of clubs for the disabled in the North-west before they discovered Ms Cockin at the Celebrity Pig Theatre Company in Manchester, and Mr Kirby at the Terence O'Grady Gateway club in Oldham.

Neither has any screen-acting experience and they have only limited reading and writing skills, so their parts are being written around them. Ms Cockin, who most people find difficult to understand, plays a character who says nothing in the film.

Derek Wax, the producer, said: "We couldn't do a conventional audition. It was very much about meeting the right type of person and essentially asking them to play a version of themselves. They're very aware they're in a film and are excited about the experience."

Mr Wax said they thought it would be more truthful to cast people with genuine learning disabilities rather than to look for actors, and they wanted to do so out of respect. "It's always a bit contrived when you're watching Al Pacino playing someone who's blind," he said.

The drama is being made by Red, the company behind the Channel 4 series Queer as Folk, for BBC2 and is due to be aired next spring. It is also the first collaboration between the BBC's drama unit and its disabilities programme unit.