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Death and Nightingales: Everything you need to know about Jamie Dornan’s new show

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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It starts this week on BBC2, and it reunites Dornan with the creator of The Fall

We remember it like it was yesterday.

The Fall premiered on television on 13 May, 2013, introducing us to steely-edged superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) and the man she was hunting: a slippery, inscrutable serial killer by the name of Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). Written and created by Allan Cubitt, it ran for three knife-edge seasons and left us all with some very conflicting feelings about whether or not it was okay to fancy a man whose pastime was, essentially, running around Belfast finding more women to kill.

It was the Dexter conundrum all over again, only this time it was way more compelling embodied in the, well, body and performance of a pre-Fifty Shades of Grey Dornan. 

The Fall ended in 2016 and Dornan went on to the similarly conflicting role of Christian Grey in Fifty Shades. But that franchise came to its inevitable conclusion earlier this year, freeing Dornan up to return to television and reunite with The Fall’s creator Cubitt on a brand new television series: Death and Nightingales.

Based on the classic Irish novel by Eugene McCabe, the television show is a three part series on BBC Two that takes place over just one day in 19th century Fermanagh as a young woman and her enigmatic friend (Dornan, of course) attempt to escape the clutches of her stepfather. Here’s everything we know about Dornan’s new series.

The plot is tightly-wound

The protagonist of Death and Nightingales is Beth Winters (Ann Skelly) who decides, on her 23rd birthday, to leave behind her stepfather Billy (Matthew Rhys) – a drunk who despised her mother after she came into their relationship already pregnant with Beth – and instead shack up with Liam Ward (Dornan), a man himself suspected of inciting civil unrest in London.

Is Beth simply swapping one domineering man for another? Or is her decision to hitch her wagon to Liam, so to speak, based on love and romance and the desire for freedom?

Set over a single 24 hour period in a rural Irish town in 1885, the television series is tightly-wound and cleverly told over just three episodes. 

It’s Dornan’s reunion with his The Fall collaborator

Appearing on The Graham Norton Show in October, Dornan said that he “would do anything” that Cubbitt asked him to do. That included taking on the role of Liam in Death and Nightingales, yet another unreadable man to add to Dornan’s canon of unreadable men.

“You want every character you play to be multi-faceted and complex,” Dornan told the BBC

“Allan and I have history with me playing one of the most complex characters that I may ever have the chance to play. Anytime you have the opportunity to play that there’s more to them than meets the eye you have to jump at that, they don’t come along that often. You see a lot of two dimensional characters onscreen but Liam Ward is so much more than that and there’s a lot of juiciness to get stuck into. He was a real treat to play.” 

Jamie Dornan with Alan Cubitt and Gillian Anderson at the premiere of The Fall

Dornan added: “If [Allan] wants me to do anything for the rest of my career then I will do it because in many ways he gave me my career.”

But casting Dornan wasn’t a question of calling in favours. Cubbitt, who wrote Death and Nightingales and directed the miniseries, penned the adaptation with Dornan in mind for the part of Liam. “I just love [Cubitt],” Dornan told the BBC. “We have a shorthand and understanding of each other on how we both like to approach work… It’s a lovely thing to be back working with him again.” 

Ann Skelly is one to watch

She’s only 21, but this Irish actress is making a name for herself as one to watch. Dornan personally recommended Skelly for the role of Beth after she had been suggested to him for another project.

“I didn’t know a huge amount about her but from what I’d seen she was brilliant,” Dornan said. “She’s lived up to the hype and she’s so fun, which is important… She’s only 21 and she’s incredible. I feel very old around her!” 

Dornan and Ann Skelly in Death and Nightingales

“Beth’s totally infatuated with him,” Skelly told the Daily Mail, of Dornan’s character. “She’s very sheltered, she’s lived quite a privileged life. But in Liam she sees this romanticism and perhaps she doesn’t grasp how brutal it can be.”

Though Dornan and co-star Matthew Rhys, who plays Beth’s stepfather Billy are undeniably the bigger stars, the emotional weight of Death and Nightingales is squarely on Beth’s (and Skelly’s) shoulders. “At heart, it’s a love story, which occurs across a religious and class divide,” Cubitt told the Guardian. “But it’s also a story of gender, of Beth and her struggles to extricate herself from a terrible situation… and whether she can take control of her destiny.” 

The series was short in Northern Ireland

Belfast-born Dornan got to experience a bit of home during the filming of Death and Nightingales, which took place entirely against the picturesque backdrop of Northern Ireland. The series was shot just down the road from where Game of Thrones had pitched its trailers and tents for the past few years. 

Rhys relocated his family with his The Americans co-star Keri Russell to Northern Ireland for the duration of the shoot, while Dornan got the chance to spend time in his homeland. 

Dornan, Skelly and Matthew Rhys in Death and Nightingales

“I’m quite rubbish about coming home unless I have to work,” Dornan admitted. “I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been back here since finishing The Fall series three, so it’s been brilliant and seeing parts of the country that I didn’t know excited. The weather has been glorious the entire time and I love the light here, it stays light until 11PM. It helps you to finish your days and it’s good for your soul.” 

When can we watch it?

The first episode of Death and Nightingales will air on BBC Two at 9PM on Wednesday 28 November. 

Images: BBC

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Hannah-Rose Yee

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