BBC Alba unveils new Gaelic drama pilot Bannan

Christopher Young and Chrisella Ross outside the Blythswood Hotel in Glasgow help launch BBC Alba's new drama, Bannan. Picture: Robert Perry
Christopher Young and Chrisella Ross outside the Blythswood Hotel in Glasgow help launch BBC Alba's new drama, Bannan. Picture: Robert Perry
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A PILOT for a long running Gaelic drama series was unveiled by BBC Alba today as the channel announced the highlights of its autumn schedule.

Filming for the initial three episodes of Bannan, which translates as The Ties That Bind, began on Skye this week.

The channel, which launched five years ago, also revealed it will be showing the Scottish women’s football team’s World Cup qualifying matches live.

And it will broadcast several new documentaries, including the story of the search for Donald Mackenzie, the Stornoway man who disappeared in Turkey three years ago while looking for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat.

Still in the early stages of production, Bannan will be set on an unnamed island in the Hebrides.

The drama follows the story of Mairi Macdonald, who returns to the island for a funeral having left eight years earlier, and rediscovers the emotional ties that bind her there.

The show is being produced by Christopher Young, the man behind the hugely successful comedy series The Inbetweeners.

Mr Young, a Gaelic speaker who lives on Skye, said he wanted Bannan to have the feel and structure of the Danish political drama Borgen or the US crime series Breaking Bad.

“We’re keen to do something contemporary and I think we want to bring a drama in Gaelic to a firmly 21st century audience,” he said.

“we want to talk about 21st century Gaels, who are of course living in 21st century Scotland.

Mr Young said that the drama departed from any previous Gaelic productions by being immersed in the language from start to finish.

“We originated the script in Gaelic, and I think the big step forward with this is director Tony Kearney directed his actors in Gaelic. And we have a crew that is Gaelic. I think that is revolutionary.”

Mr Young said that the 1990s Gaelic soap Machair saw English-speaking directors directing Gaelic actors using scripts that were translated from English language scripts.

“When you think about it for an actor to be going through a whole set of instructions from a director on how to do something, then going into a different language to actual perform is not ideal.”

He added that if the three pilot episodes were successful, the channel hoped to produce 15 episodes a year.

BBC Alba’s head of service, Margaret Mary Murray said that Bannan, which is being made with support from Creative Scotland, represented a high point in the channel’s output.

“When BBC Alba launched five years ago, we launched on our first night with a drama, it was a period piece called Elvis.

“And I think on that night we set out our ambition to have drama as part of our schedule for the channel.”

Janet Archer, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland said: “This is an exciting time for people who are passionate about Gaelic drama. There are increasing opportunities for established and emerging actors, directors, writers, and producers to create new work, and a growing momentum for audiences in Scotland, the UK and internationally to have chances to see Gaelic drama.”

The channel said it is committed to promoting women’s sport and this season will be showcasing live international matches from the 2015 Women’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers as Scotland competes against countries including Bosnia and Northern Ireland on their quest to reach the finals in Canada.

Speaking at the schedule launch in Glasgow yesterday, Shelley Alexander, editorial lead for women’s sport at the BBC, said: “It’s great that BBC ALBA is offering comprehensive coverage of Scotland’s World Cup qualifier matches, the programming greatly complements both the women’s football output on BBC Sport, and the coverage of many other women’s sports.

“This summer’s Women’s Euro’s coverage proved very popular with audiences and we are keen to build on this appetite across the UK as the teams start their World Cup campaign.”

To support the coverage the channel has also commissioned an original documentary, Honeyballers, authored by Purple TV producer, Margot McCuaig, which celebrates the remarkable female pioneers who made this World Cup campaign possible. ‘Honeyballers’ will air on BBC ALBA just after the first live home Scotland World Cup qualifier on 26 September.