Cathy comes home to BBC on drama's 40th anniversary

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The Independent Online

The original was a defining moment of 1960s television, a drama on homelessness deemed so powerful it provoked national debate and boosted the new charity Shelter which launched just days after broadcast.

Now Cathy Come Home is being reinterpreted for the 21st century in a new production with Anne-Marie Duff, star of the series Shameless, in the central role and a cast that includes Colin Firth.

The film is to be shot over five weeks in London from June and will be aired on BBC1 as the highlight of a season marking the 40th anniversary of the original in November.

Where the 1966 film was directed by Ken Loach, who went on to make Kes and Land and Freedom, the new version is in the hands of Dominic Savage, whose previous award-winning social dramas include the film Out of Control starring Tamzin Outhwaite.

Paddy Considine, star of the films Stoned and Dead Man's Shoes, Julia Davis, writer and lead of the television comedy Nighty Night, and David Oyelowo, star of Spooks, and the Royal Shakespeare Company's first black king, are all in talks to appear.

Depending on what emerges from the shoot, which will be partly improvised, the feature-length film could even get a cinema release, alongside its television premiere. "We have ambitions for that," Savage said.

The film was the idea of Peter Fincham, controller of BBC1, as one of his first large-scale commissions.

Savage said he had been asked by the BBC to make "my own authored kind of film" on the subject of homelessness that could have resonance today.

"It's very difficult to have the same impact as the original Cathy Come Home. Things are so much better. But there are still problems.

"I'm going to attempt to make a film about social inequalities, intertwining different lives in London, showing extremes of wealth and extremes of poverty including homelessness and how those lives collide. I'm trying to be ambitious with it."

Savage has been researching the project among hostels and victims of homelessness, focusing on temporary accommodation and the impact on those living in it.

"Although it started out as, 'Let's make a modern day Cathy Come Home,' it has changed quite a lot since that original brief. I've tried to make something that I think works just as a great story," he said.

"What I didn't want to do was something too worthy or too factual because it wouldn't work for me."

The original Cathy, written by the late Jeremy Sandford, told the story of young lovers, Cathy and Reg, from the optimism of their early married life through a series of unlucky breaks when Reg is injured at work. They lose their home and split up, culminating in agonising scenes when Cathy's children are forcibly taken from her by social services.

With filming on location and with much of the style of a documentary, it provoked fierce debate - not least from people unhappy about the blurring of the distinction between drama and documentary. But the impact was so powerful that these arguments faded.

A BBC spokeswoman said it seemed appropriate to mark the anniversary of Cathy Come Home with a film looking at similar issues.

"Cathy Come Home was such a ground-breaking work, no one is trying to emulate that. But at the anniversary it feels timely to look at poverty and social inequality. But there is no way anyone is trying to make an impact akin to that of Cathy Come Home, which was a unique piece of television."

Details were still being confirmed and it was not yet decided whether the original would be also screened, the spokeswoman said. However, the new work would be one of a series of programmes inspired by Loach's drama which were scheduled for the autumn.

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