'This Life' - and now the hereafter

It ran for only two series, yet it was one of the BBC's most popular and influential dramas. Ten years on, its stars are reuniting for a one-off special. Anthony Barnes reports

Now, a decade after it was first screened, the stars of the hit programme, which was condemned for showing "simulated sex between homosexuals", are set to return. Older, maybe. But wiser, probably not.

Miles, Milly, Egg, Anna and Warren are due to start filming for the first time since Tony Blair was welcoming Noel Gallagher through the doors of No 10. In the next few days the BBC will officially announce a return for the programme, allowing viewers to catch up on what happened next.

The principal players in the cast - who include Jack Davenport and Andrew Lincoln - have already gathered in preparation, their first encounter since they went their separate ways after the second and final series. Daniela Nardini, who played the sex-mad Anna, said the cast was initially ambivalent about reviving the show.

"No one was totally for doing it and no one was totally against it," she said. "There's the austere, precious attitude that says you should never go back. But, by the end of the day, we were like: 'Och, it could be a laugh, why not?'"

The BBC will make an official announcement about the project - likely to take the form of a90-minute film - within the next fortnight to coincide with a season of weekly repeats of all 32 episodes on BBC2. Filming is due to begin in July, although preparations may now be a little delayed. Writer Amy Jenkins has given birth in the past few days, and will have more pressing things on her mind.

It is understood the characters will be brought together when Miles writes a novel, with his supposedly fictional work based on the lives of his housemates. Although they have remained in touch, it seems his friends are divided over having their exploits included in the book when he meets up with them during a promotional tour.

A BBC source said: "This Life was one of the most successful dramas the BBC has ever made. There will be a genuine appetite out there for people to know what happened to the characters and how they have changed in the past 10 years."

Not only was the realism of the subject matter what set the series apart, but also the way it was shot. Filmed on shaky hand-held cameras, it was at the forefront of a wave of dizziness-inducing shows such as The Cops, which was made by the same producer, Tony Garnett. It was also the springboard to success for several of the leading actors. After appearing in This Life, Davenport (the uptight Miles) went on to star in the sitcom Coupling and films such as Pirates of the Caribbean. Ramon Tikaram, who appeared in the second series as bisexual courier Ferdy, found success on the stage in Jesus Christ Superstar and Bombay Dreams.

It even gave an early TV credit for Ricky Gervais, who was in charge of the music for the series.

This Life was far from an instant hit when it was first screened in 1996. Its audience built throughout its first run, but it came into its own with the second series the following year, with BBC bosses confident enough in its potential to give it a 21-week run - almost unheard-of for a drama serial.

But after that, silence. Seemingly a combination of difficulties in getting the cast together again and the producers' desire to quit while they were ahead killed off any further plans.

Michael Jackson, who commissioned the series when he was controller of BBC2, said: "It took off very, very slowly. It did take quite a long time for people to understand it. But when things are a slow burn, they are that much more resonant. The audience becomes passionate."

But there were no hesitations to invest in a lengthy second series. "We were really desperate for a serial that represented its moment," he said. "It's sad that it only went on for so long because it had further to run and I think the audience thought that too. But Tony thought that they were in danger of repeating themselves and wanted to stop before they ran out of ideas."

Jane Root, another former BBC2 controller, believes the programme helped to shape British TV. "If you look at Cold Feet, if you look at Spooks, and a whole range of other shows, they would not have existed if it weren't for This Life," said Ms Root.

"I still remember favourite scenes and things where I thought, I can't believe they've done that - the gay scenes and the sex scenes. Also this was a series about lawyers, but you didn't see a single courtroom. There was something very radical about This Life's attitude to class. It blew apart the idea that these people were elders or betters."

Additional reporting by Damian Barr

THEIR LIVES

What Milly & Co did next (apart from voice-overs)

Jack Davenport, 33 (Miles) Has built an international profile through films includingPirates of the Caribbean, The Talented Mr Ripley and The Libertine. Also known for voice-over work, including Mastercard ads. Married to the actress Michelle Gomez.

Amita Dhiri, 37 (Milly) Of all the cast, Dhiri has kept the lowest screen profile although she has had exposure through the BBC2 sitcom Happiness and the courtroom drama Judge John Deed. Has a daughter with husband Brendan.

Andrew Lincoln, 32 (Egg) Best known for his role in the Channel 4 drama series Teachers and last year starred in ITV1's Afterlife. Has also won film roles in Love Actually and Enduring Love. Another familiar voice-over star.

Jason Hughes, 34 (Warren) Has had numerous bit parts in programmes such as Casualty and Waking the Dead but has recently found more permanent employment in the ITV1 drama series Midsomer Murders. Has two children with his partner.

Daniela Nardini, 37 (Anna) Divided her time between the stage, including a celebrated role as high society prostitute Camille, and TV dramas such as Reckless, Big Women and Sirens. Last year she starred in the film Festival.

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