STV’s announcement this week that it is developing a new historical drama series based on William Wallace came as a surprise. Wallace is being made in association with American partners and a London-based production company, with cash also coming from Creative Scotland.
Details are scanty, but STV says that it will go into the story in more detail than Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and will be in the gritty style of Game Of Thrones and Spartacus (though it’s unlikely to have the same levels of sex and gore as those American cable productions).
In many ways, I’m disappointed to see such a big project go back again to the over-familiar story of Wallace, Longshanks and the Bruce - haven’t we seen it all before? But at least it’s a chance to correct the merry inaccuracies of the 1995 film, which included a romance for the hero with a French princess who would have been a child if they had ever met.
But think how fantastic it would have been to dramatise other interesting parts of Scottish history, like the Covenant riots, the Darien misadventure, the bombing of Clydebank or the UCS work-in? Or what about adapting a modern Scottish novel like James Robertson’s And The Land Lay Still, which charts the changes in society from the 1950s to the present and could be our equivalent of BBC2’s London-centric White Heat? As the recent craze for Danish series The Killing and Borgen has shown, small countries are capable of making great contemporary TV drama, so why don’t we?
Of course, more obscure projects may not have had the international appeal which has secured the necessary co-funding. And, with ITV just about to present the umpteenth fictionalisation of Titanic, while other repetitive subjects like Sherlock Holmes, vampires and forensic investigation are constantly being rehashed, it seems that originality is out of favour with TV commissioners. The built-in name recognition of William Wallace may draw in viewers and, if it’s successful, other dramas could follow. It’ll provide much-needed work for the struggling Scottish film industry and perhaps boost tourism (unlike the movie, the battles should actually be shot here – and it almost certainly won’t star an Australian).
The drama could have political implications too: just as the SNP seized on the Braveheart factor, it’s likely that the TV version could become a talking point in the independence referendum debate. While we’ll have to wait and see whether it’s any good as a drama, as a television event Wallace will be unmissable.