We’ve been steadily working our way through a box set of Catherine Cookson TV movie adaptations made between 1989 and 2001 by producer Ray Marshall. All of these are splendid entertainment: hard-hitting stories in which realistic characters are wrung through the mill in various ways.
One reason the Cookson adaptations work so well is that they’re invariably gutsy and down to earth. Cookson’s heroines typically rise from the gutter, fighting against sometimes overwhelming odds to make successes of their lives. As such, these tales are hugely inspirational and despite their period settings they never feel dated.
A second reason for the success of these TV movies is that they’re well grounded in reality. The working class Tyneside settings are a character all of themselves and viewed together they create a kind of uniform backdrop on which a varied tapestry of stories is played out. If you want examples of how to make setting and era come alive, then I’d wholeheartedly recommend giving these a go.
For an interview with the producer, check the BBC Tyne website.