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Serial Life in East London

Date posted: 08.10.2010

A new nail-biting thriller, assisted by Film London and featuring an all-star cast, hits the small screen this weekend and is earmarked as one not to be missed. A slick three-part police drama, Sleepyhead is an adaptation of Mark Billingham's first novel of the Thorne series. BAFTA nominee David Morrissey (Nowhere Boy, State of Play) takes the title role as DI Tom Thorne and was the driving force behind getting the London-set project developed, commissioned and shot.

Sleepyhead was first published in the UK in 2001 and entered the Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller list before becoming the biggest selling debut novel of the summer. It was by chance that Morrissey happened upon Billingham's book - browsing in a local bookshop between takes whilst filming in New Zealand. Attracted to its dark sensibility, Morrissey later discovered that he was the author's first choice for the protagonist should it ever be brought to life. The rest, as they say, is history.

The story follows DI Thorne's investigation into a mysterious serial killer. His first three female victims turn up dead, but the fourth, however, is not so fortunate. She has survived a stroke, deliberately induced by skilful manipulation of pressure points on the head and neck. She can see, hear and feel and is aware of everything going on around her, but she is completely unable to move or communicate. Suffering from "Locked-In Syndrome" she holds the key to the killer's identity, but is simply unable to tell anybody.

leepyhead comes from one of the UK's most talented new writers and presents a superb British cast - with Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky, Little Dorrit) playing Kevin Tughan, Tom Thorne's former partner; Natascha McElhone (The Kid, Californication) as Anne Coburn, a neurologist who becomes involved in Thorne's case; and Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Queer As Folk) as medical examiner Phil Hendricks.

Billingham's books are based around the Kentish Town area in north-west London, but Stephen Hopkins - the director of Keither Sutherland real-time action vehicle 24 - chose instead to utilize the backdrop of the Olympic Games site. He wanted to capture a thriving architectural city, so re-located the main action to the East End - carefully selecting Whitechapel, Brick Lane and Shoreditch as his key locations.

The resulting look and feel of the series is a far cry from the usual tourist trail and London landmarks - viewers are offered scenes backed with cranes and building sites, an altogether more urban and gritty side of the capital.

Morrissey remarked in a recent interview: "Because Stephen [Hopkins] had lived in LA for so long, it was like a new city for him - and filming in East London, we had this changing madness going on around us. There were roads closed, the actual stadium was going up. And the way 'old London' was giving way to 'new London' seemed to reflect what happens to the characters in the script."

Film London attended various meetings with the Location Manager Tom Elgood in advance of the shoot - ensuring he secured the right locations and could gain access to the new structures and developments round the East London Line site. Things swiftly fell into place and the locations were locked down one by one for a tight shooting schedule in March and April of this year. Dalston Kingsland Shopping Centre, Lea Valley Ice Centre, New Inn Yard, Mile End Stadium, as well as Mile End Leisure Centre all ended up being extensively used - with 3 Mills Studios as the convenient production base.

The second part in the Thorne drama series, Scaredycat, has subsequently started shooting in the capital and there are hopes the other ten novels will be adapted in time.

Thorne: Sleepyhead airs on Sunday 10 October at 9pm, on Sky 1 HD and Sky 1. Whet your appetite and watch exclusive clips from episode one on the Sky1 website.

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