Brian Ferguson: Bannan a welcome boost to Scottish TV

Bannan has a cast of virtually unknown actors and a budget a fraction of that afforded to usual BBC drama series
Bannan has a cast of virtually unknown actors and a budget a fraction of that afforded to usual BBC drama series
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ON THE face of it, the idea does sound a bit ridiculous. Is Scotland’s answer to the spate of hit Scandinavian drama series such as The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge really going to be a show in which the cast speak almost exclusively in Gaelic?

That is exactly what has been touted for more than a year by BBC Alba and Chris Young, the Edinburgh-born producer of hit Channel 4 comedy The Inbetweeners, who has relocated to the Isle of Skye full-time to turn his dream into reality.

Bannan, the relationships-based drama, has a cast of virtually unknown actors and a budget a fraction of that afforded to usual BBC drama series.

Viewers can deliver an early verdict on the show when it airs on BBC Alba for the first time next week. But the channel already harbours big hopes for the drama, which is likely to be on air for at least 18 months.

The basic premise of the show is that a young woman returns to her island home eight years after cutting all links, only to find plenty of emotional ties waiting for her there. But it is clear there is going to be much more to Bannan, with 12 characters in the cast. Filming on the three initial episodes began last September. A further 15 episodes have been commissioned, with the first full series due on air in the spring.

With a second series already being planned, filming could continue throughout 2016 and keep Bannan on air well into 2017.

The significance of the show begins to grow when you realise how few other drama series are being made in Scotland. The BBC has committed to a third season of Shetland, the acclaimed detective show with Douglas Henshall, although only eight episodes have been made, and filming of the next instalments will not begin until next year. And while it recently announced it had commissioned a two-part adaptation of the Iain Banks novel Stonemouth, its only other long-running drama series is River City, with filming ending recently on school drama Waterloo Road.

The relatively long-term commitment to Bannan will not only provide a huge amount of work for new acting talent, it will also establish significant production infrastructure in the Highlands.

The scale of the Gaelic production is, of course, miniscule compared to that being lavished on the American TV fantasy drama Outlander, which started filming in a warehouse in Cumbernauld almost a year ago.

But the advent of these two productions over the last 12 months has certainly given the impression that Scotland has a booming TV industry, even without the kind of permanent studio facilities for which the country has long been crying out.