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Your favourite new TV show: Flowers

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Flowers

Monday the 25th of April sees the launch of Flowers: Channel 4’s innovative new six-part comedy-drama starring Olivia Colman (The Night Manager, Broadchurch) and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley) and written and directed by BAFTA-nominated Will Sharpe (Black Pond).

The six-part series will run over the course of a single week, with the first two episodes running back-to-back as a double bill from 10pm on 25th April and then running an episode per night until the finale on Friday, 29th April.

I recently popped down to Channel 4 and watched the first and third episodes, and highlights from episodes 2 to 6. That sounds bonkers, but it gave me a really good intro to the show, a full look at the awkward and hilarious set-piece middle part, and a feel for the rest of the series as a whole. As well as a belly full of sushi and potent floral cocktails.

Flowers is poetic, sad, beautiful and tragic – but also bloody funny. It’s a gallows humour emotional punch to the heart, and sharp knock on the funny bone; and an absolutely singular bitter sweet vision from writer-director Will Sharpe.

It’s is an imaginative, cinematic show about an eccentric and dysfunctional family struggling to hold themselves together. Maurice (Barratt), the author of illustrated children’s books “The Grubbs”, and music teacher wife Deborah (Colman) are barely together, but yet to divorce. As Maurice fights inner demons and dark secrets, Deborah tries to keep the family together at all costs and becomes increasingly suspicious that Maurice is in a secret homosexual relationship with his Japanese illustrator Shun (played by show creator Will Sharpe).

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The Flowers family live in a creaky,  crumbling old house with Maurice’s ailing mother Hattie (Leila Hoffman) and their maladjusted 25-year-old twins Amy (Sophia Di Martino – Friday Night Dinner, Mount Pleasant) and Donald (BAFTA-winning Daniel Rigby – Eric and Ernie, Cardinal Burns, Undercover). Both are competing for the affection of neighbour Abigail (BAFTA-winning Georgina Campbell – Murdered By My Boyfriend) as they struggle to burst through the confines of their arrested development. Anna Chancellor plays Aunty Viv, Deborah’s vivacious sister.

Swinging from the profane to the profound, the Flowers family and their often self-inflicted crises, are surrounded by odd neighbours who become the agents of further heartache and misfortune. Despite living on top of each other the family will do anything to not communicate, pushing them and their struggles with love and life to extreme and ridiculous places.

The show will run throughout the week starting on Monday the 25th of April with a double bill starting at 10pm, then with an episode a night until the finale airs on Friday the 29th at 10pm. The whole of the brilliant series will then be available on All 4.

Flowers stars Olivia Colman and Julian Barratt had the following to say about their work on the programme:

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Olivia Colman

 

You’re starring in Channel 4’s new series Flowers. It’s not what you’d call a traditional sitcom, is it?

No! It goes to darker places than most would go to. A comedy about suicide and mental health is pretty unusual – they’re normally the domain of drama. It’s quite daring, and I like that.

 

You play Deborah. What’s her story?

Deborah is a woman of love. She loves her family desperately, although is misguided a lot of the time. If she can sense something is not right, she doesn’t necessarily try and sort it in the right way. It’s a symptom of the entire family that they don’t really listen to each other. Or they listen but don’t hear, which is where a lot of the comedy comes from. She’s quite eccentric, as they all are. She’s possibly less eccentric than the others. She’s lovely, she loves her family, and wants to sort them out, she just gets it a bit wrong.

 

What was it that made you say yes to what is essentially a relatively low profile and niche comedy on Channel 4 written and directed by something of a novice?

I’ve never picked a project because it’s high profile. I picked Flowers because I liked the scripts, and if I’m enjoying myself, then I’m very lucky. And also it’s Julian Barratt, who I absolutely love, and have always loved watching. It was a lovely treat to be able to work with him. And I think Will’s really amazing. I’m very grateful to know him early on. Hopefully he might ask me back.

 

So working with Will was a rewarding experience? Was his inexperience a plus, in a way?

Well, I liked his pilot script, so that got us off to a very good start. I can like a lot of scripts, but sometimes they don’t get made, and sometimes I don’t get the part. This is one of the ones that I did like, and it all worked out. I think in the first episode Will was a bit nervous – we were all a bit nervous. He was very polite, and I think I did quite a bad job a lot of the time. And then we went into episode two and onwards, and I said “Please don’t be polite, if I’m doing a shit job, you’ve got to say.” And he went “Oh, okay”. And he did, and he was brilliant. He gave such great notes, he really was a very good leader, who guided everyone really well.

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There’s a very real feeling to a lot of the conversations and reactions in this. Did you improvise much, or was it all laid out in the script?

It was all there in the script. If there was a big group scene, we would record it as it was written, and then Will’d say “Okay, and now we’re going to let rip a bit.” Which I find terrifying, but it was actually really quite liberating and fun, and some hilariously weird stuff came out of it. Yeah, it was really enjoyable.

 

Looking at your comedy back catalogue, with Sally in 2012, Sophie in Peep Show, and now Deborah in Flowers, your comedy characters aren’t exactly blessed with the greatest luck in love, are they?

[laughs] No! I don’t know why. Maybe I find that funny. Is that awful of me? I think a good dollop of sadness is quite a useful thing in comedy sometimes.  I think if everyone’s happy all the time, it’s a bit dull. I think darkness really compliments comedy. It’s like salt and caramel – you wouldn’t imagine they would go well together, but they do. I think watching someone, from the comfort of your own home, doing something awful or wrong, you have the luxury to be able to laugh at it. I think it works.

 

Flowers and The Night Manager are such massively different projects. Does it feel like doing a completely different profession?

Actually no, not too much, because whenever you’re not filming, between scenes and things, everyone’s having a nice time, and it doesn’t matter where you are. What we should always remember is that we’re really fucking lucky. We’re doing a job we love and we want to do. Take the job seriously, but not yourself, so that you’re able to enjoy each other’s company. We’re all kind of similar people, we like the same things. Between scenes, it’s not very different, whether you’re on a comedy or a drama.

 

What about in the scenes? Do you act differently? Is everything a bit more exaggerated and pronounced in comedy?

Yes. And I hadn’t done it for a while, so I felt quite out of my comfort zone doing Flowers. You feel more comfortable as the days go by. I felt like I was doing an awful job, really hamming it up. But then I started to care less and just enjoy it. And with Will’s guidance – either a thumbs up or a ‘rein that in a bit’ – it was really fun, and good to do something different again.

 

You seem to have been very busy for the last few years. Are you someone who feels a need to keep on working? Do you hate to turn good work down?

I do struggle. I really remember what it was like not to work, so it’s hard to wilfully say ‘no’. But it also looks like I’ve been working more than I have. Apart from Flowers, I’ve just had nine months off, because I’ve been with my baby. It’s just the luck of the draw that The Night Manager and Flowers are showing fairly close together. But The Night Manager was filmed year ago. My family is my first love and my first priority, and I probably have more time at home than people with normal jobs.

Speaking of your pregnancy, I read that it was difficult to learn lines when you were pregnant. How was it having to learn lines and perform when you have a small child at home and are sleep-deprived?

It was slightly worse! The learning lines when pregnant wasn’t too bad, but there were a few rewrites, and so I might have possibly used it as an excuse to say “I can’t do it!” But once the baby’s there, and as babies are want to do, not sleeping, that was quite hard. But I had the car journey in in the morning to try and cram it in.

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Julian Barratt

 

You’re starring in Channel 4’s thorny new show Flowers – can you explain the concept of the show?

It’s about a dysfunctional family who are all in separate worlds, almost. It’s about their journey through various events, including some fairly dark ones. It’s about their journey through that into connectedness, I suppose. That’s a fairly non-comic, quite academic explanation!  One of the things I really liked about it is a real attention to visual detail. It’s all written in the script – it sort of felt to me more like an indie movie – not quite Wes Anderson, but it had a visual quality that you don’t get much when you’re reading TV scripts. So it was that, and the comedy and the darkness that drew me to it. Usually in scripts it’s wall-to-wall dialogue. But quite a lot of sections of this had no dialogue. I don’t know how Will (Sharpe, the creator, writer and director) pitched the idea to Channel 4!

 

You play Maurice – what’s his story?

He’s a children’s author who’s hit a brick wall. He’s quite a broken, stuck person, and he’s become suicidal. He’s frozen. He has a very grey, almost monochromatic feel to him. He’s surrounded by these quite colourful characters – his wife, his children, Shun his illustrator – and he’s much darker, a bit blurred and unfocussed and not there somehow.

 

Maurice’s wife, Deborah, is played by Olivia Colman. What was it like working with her?

It was great. I knew her a little bit beforehand – bumped into her at a few things, but I’d never worked with her. It was quite nerve-wracking to work with her. She’s not a frightening person in any way, but just having seen her do so much good stuff, it made me feel like I really had to make sure I “did something” next to her. She really spans all the stuff I’d like to do as an actor – she does comedy, drama; serious stuff, and that’s quite intimidating – but she’s very much as you see her. She’s very funny and puts you at ease, and, very quickly, it was fine. She’s amazing to watch, I must say. I was pretty mesmerised by all the stuff she could do again and again.

 

You signed up to a show that was basically being written and directed by a first-timer. That’s quite a leap of faith. Is that testimony to Will’s talent?

I knew straightaway who he was. I really liked his indie film Black Pond, so it was an immediate yes. It was such an interesting film. I knew he was the co-creator of that. And then, having met him and read the script – which was great and sure-of-foot – you could tell that this was someone who knew what they were doing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s someone’s first series or not, if it’s a good script, and you’ve got an example of their work, and you like it, that’s all you need in a way.

 

Does it feel different performing someone else’s work than something you’ve written yourself?

Yeah it does, because I don’t really have so much reverence for my own work when I’m doing it. I filmed Flowers back-to-back with a film that I’ve written. And doing that, I could say to myself “I know when I wrote this line, it was when I was quite tired one night and I couldn’t find a better one,” so I’m quite happy to find a better line on the day. With someone’s else’s work, you don’t really know. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to Will on the first day and started saying “I think I might try this instead.” So it takes a while to get to a point where you feel you can do that, which isn’t the case with your own work.

 

As well as being very funny and very dark, Flowers is very moving and tender. Is the emotional depth of the series important to you?

Oh yeah, that is the point of it; It’s a mixture of that plus comedy. The stuff I’ve written is more like The Mighty Boosh, I suppose – it’s more silly, you don’t go to those [darker] areas at all. But I tend to watch serious films. Comedy is great, but I tend to be more into straight, serious drama. I love it, but I don’t write it. And so it’s really exciting to be part of something that’s a little bit of both. At the audition, he made me do stuff that was a little more straight. This isn’t a totally straight piece, of course, but there are bits of this where I’m not doing anything funny, where it’s just real.

 

It’s a very bleak subject matter, yet it’s also a comedy. Was that appealing?

I think comedy is the way we deal with dark times and depression. Some of the best comedy comes from that sort of area – certainly some of my favourite comedy. The Apartment [1960] has got an attempted suicide in it. The Odd Couple [1968] starts with an attempted suicide with Jack Lemmon, who puts his back out while trying to throw himself out of a window. I don’t have a problem with that. But if you want a fun, warm watch, this might not be for you!

But you can’t cater for everyone. When I used to do stand-up ‘Boosh tours, we’d do a show and people would come up in the interval and go “could you stop doing this stuff, because we find it offensive.” We’ve written a show, we’re not going to stop doing it because one person has some issues with it. And what we’re dealing with in Flowers, it’s nothing that hasn’t been dealt with before, and in a comic fashion.

 

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