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The Devil's Whore mixes fact with fiction

SOUTH Tyneside playwright Peter Flannery has created some of the most memorable TV drama of recent years.

Our Friends in the North was a small-screen landmark drawing on Tyneside subject matter such as the Jarrow March.

More recently, he has spent years developing a very different dramatic project based on the English Civil War, and it starts next week on Channel 4.

He spoke to the Gazette about the 7m drama The Devil's Whore, a dramatic TV retelling of the English Civil War, which mixes fact and fiction.

Jarrow-born playwright Flannery has long been fascinated by the 17th century conflict, but his drama remained in development for many years as he tried to convince TV bosses to take it on.

That kind of hold-up is nothing new to him, though, as he struggled for 13 years to get Our Friends in the North – eventually screened in 1996, starring Daniel Craig and Christopher Eccleston – made.

"I had a great sense of relief when the project was green-lit again after it had been around for many years," he said.

"In some ways, myself and my co-creator, Martine Brant, who first came up with the idea for the play, now want the whole thing to continue for another 14 years."

Filmed in South Africa for reasons of cost, the four-part drama is dominated by the central character of Angelica Fanshawe, played by Andrea Rise-borough.

Flannery said: "Angelica is completely fictional and acts as a kind of prism, with the story told through her eyes."

At least one commentator has read Flannery's detailed historical drama as a political allegory of former Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, but the dramatist disagrees.

He said: "That's nonsense. I don't remember Thatcher ever moving to the left."

The language of The Devil's Whore is suffused with the beautiful rhythms and cadences of the King James Bible.

Flannery is also a devotee of the poetry of John Milton, often viewed as one of the chief political theorists of the English Civil War, as well as John Donne and the Metaphysical poets.

"The story is character-led and broad-based, but the language of the King James Bible and Milton is there, behind the need to tell the story of Cromwell and certain battles and so on," he said.

"There has been relatively little in the way of TV drama about the English Civil War, apart from a couple of feature films and a stage play, and that was one of the things which drew me to the subject."

The four-part drama features big-name stars including John Simm, best known as Sam Tyler in Life on Mars, as soldier of fortune Edward Sexby.

Oliver Cromwell is played by Dominic West, previously seen as Jimmy McNulty in cult US drama The Wire.

Flannery is delighted with the finished version, adding: "It's superb, breathtaking and lavish."

The satisfaction afforded by The Devil's Whore makes up for the often frustrating years following Our Friends in the North, when some of Flannery's dramatic ideas failed to progress beyond his writing desk.

"I wanted to do Our Friends in the South for the BBC, which would have been a kind of prequel to Our Friends in the North, but it was never taken up, so it remained an idea only, with no actual play," he said.

The Gazette caught up with Flannery in Dublin, where he is working on his latest TV adaptation of the George Gently police stories.

Future projects include Burnt by the Sun, a drama adapted from a Russian screenplay, set during Josef Stalin's Great Terror, which opens at the National Theatre in London in March.

Flannery, 57, one of a family of three boys and two girls, was brought up in Low Simonside, and his mother, Annie Flannery, 89, still lives on the town's Scotch Estate.

Mrs Flannery said: "I'm looking forward to Peter's new series. He always lets me know what's happening with his work."

* The Devil's Whore starts on Channel 4 at 9pm on Wednesday.