BBC police drama “Better” features Leeds

in Leeds

Leeds has been playing host to BAFTA-nominated Leila Farzad and Andrew Buchan for filming of Better, a brand-new thriller now available on BBC One and iPlayer.


THE PREMIERE

The Leeds premiere of Better at the Everyman Cinema in Leeds Trinity Centre was attended by the main cast & crew with a Q&A session hosted by BBC Radio Leeds’ Rima Ahmed.

The cast, writers & producers were asked specifics about filming in the area, with Rima Ahmed lamenting that she had missed filming at her favourite local restaurant, The Heat.

Meanwhile, Andrew Buchan was espousing the merits of the Leeds Marriott “they do a really good flat iron chicken”.

Lead actress Leila Farzad told the audience she had enjoyed walking along the canals of Leeds to learn her lines. Here’s a suggested route, should you decide to try the same.

The hub for filming was the old Weetwood Police Station which formed a base for the wardrobe & crew for when filming went into the city centre or further out, such as the scenes which took place at Plumpton Rocks near Harrogate.

The first episode also features time in the recognisable atrium entrance at Pinderfield General Hospital in Wakefield.

Private Residences locations


SERIES OVERVIEW

Produced by award-winning content studio SISTER (Chernobyl, This is Going to Hurt), Leila Farzad (I Hate Suzie, Avenue 5) and Andrew Buchan (Broadchurch, The Honourable Woman, ABC Murders) star in Better, the BBC’s brand-new five-part thriller from Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent (Humans, Spooks).

Set and shot entirely in Leeds and West Yorkshire, Better explores the complex and powerful bonds of loyalty and family, set in a world where everyone has their own version of “right” and “wrong”. Examining the power of human conscience, we follow DI Lou Slack’s (Leila Farzad) epic battle towards redemption, by bringing down Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan); the man she has come to love like a brother and the man she has helped place at the head of Leeds criminal underworld. But while Col is a dangerous enemy to make, Lou’s biggest battle may yet be with herself.

19 years ago, when Lou was a young police officer at her lowest ebb and Col a low-ranking but ambitious newcomer to the Leeds underworld, their paths crossed, and they struck a deal that changed their lives forever. The bargain allowed Col to become very rich and very powerful, and Lou to turn around her failing career. A complex but special bond between the pair was forged, and so began Lou’s gradual slide into corruption. But now, when Lou’s family is brought to the brink of a tragedy, she must put right the wrongs that she has spent years rationalising and excusing, to have a second chance at a new, better life.


CAST

DI Lou Slack ……………………………………………….. Leila Farzad
Col McHugh ……………………………………………….. Andrew Buchan
Ceri ……………………………………………………………..Samuel Edward-Cook
Owen ………………………………………………….………Zak Ford-Williams
Esther …………………………………………….…………. Olivia Nakintu
Vernon …………………………………………….………..Anton Lesser
Sandy …………………………………………….…………. Lucy Black
Donal ………………………………………….…………….Ceallach Spellmam
Bulgey ………………………………………….……………Garry Cooper
Lord Roy ………………………………………….………. Mark Monero
Noel ……………………………………….….………………Kaya Moore
Alma ………………………………………….……………… Carolin Stoltz
Phil …………………………………………………………… Gavin Spokes
Lynne ………………………………………………………… Julie Edwards
DS Khan …………………………………………….……… Junade Khan
DC Ibbotson ………………………………….…….……. Anthony Lewis
Zaara Slack ……………………………………….……… Souad Faress
Artem ……………………………………………….….…. Mor Bar-El
Elise ………………………………….……………………… Charley Webb
Juliet ……………………………….…………….…………. Kate Rutter
Joelon …………………………….……………….………. Joseph Steyne
Jade ……………………………………………………..…. Tillie Amartey
Mahmet …………………………………..………..….… Diyar Bozkurt

CREW

Chris Fry ……………………………………………….. Executive Producer for SISTER
Lucy Dyke ……………………………………………… Executive Producer for SISTER
Jane Featherstone ………………………………… Executive Producer for SISTER
Jonathan Brackley…………………………………. Writer and Executive Producer
Sam Vincent …………………………………………. Writer and Executive Producer
James Dean …………………………………………… Producer
Mona Qureshi ……………………………………….. Executive Producer for BBC
Nawfal Faizullah …………………………………….. Executive Producer for BBC


SPOILER ALERT!

Please note, some of the answers, and the plot synopsis below, may reveal some details of where the story is heading. It may be worth waiting until after you’ve streamed or watched the whole series before diving too deep.

Watch episode one on BBC One at 9pm on Monday 13 February 2023 – after which the entire five episodes may be streamed on BBC iPlayer for those in the UK.


Interview with Jonathan Brackley & Sam Vincent (Co-Creators/ Writers/ Executive Producers)

Could you please give an outline of what Better is about?

Sam: Better is the story of Lou Slack (Leila Farzad), a corrupt police detective who has been working for a very notable gangster for 20 years and our story begins when something very traumatic happens in her family life and begins the process of a moral change for her.

It leads to her realising that she wants to undo all the bad things she’s done and start to lead a better life. But this will mean coming into direct conflict with the man she’s worked for, for 20 years, and a man that she loves like a brother.

Please could you tell us what some of the themes are in the show?

Sam: Better explores a few themes, but the topmost one is morality. It is about good and bad. It is the exploration of a bad person trying to become good and how difficult that is.

And if that’s even possible, really, and what good and bad means, how people feel about themselves in different ways. We’ve come at the theme of morality from every way we possibly can in this world.

How can you tell if someone is good or bad or evil, or is it not black and white?

Jonathan: What we want to explore in the show is exactly what it means to be good or to be a bad
person, and how can you even tell?

And particularly with Lou as ostensibly a ‘bad’ person, how does she go about trying to become better? How do you even do that? Is it as simple as starting to do good things, to do altruistic things, or is it about a personal discovery?

Does she have to admit it to herself or apologise to other people?

Those are the kinds of questions that we’re really interested in exploring in the show.

Sam: I’ll add to that, everybody’s criteria for whether or not they, or somebody in their lives, are good or bad is wildly different.

You know, we all see it through our own perspective and we’re trying to capture that in the show somehow. Within the first few minutes of this drama, you are introduced to a woman who is simultaneously a loving mother and a loving wife, a charismatic friend, a funny person, out for a few drinks with some friends, and yet also somebody who does something which is quite unspeakable in moral terms.

We’re trying to present this character to the audience and ask them the question, ‘is this a good or a bad person?’ And each person watching will need to make their own decision about Lou.

Do you guys think there is a villain or a hero in the story?

Sam: In terms of heroes and villains, we’re trying to take a more complex approach with this show.

When you look at the show from the outside, you’ll think that Lou Slack (Leila Farzad) is the hero, and the villain is Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan), the gangster. And certainly, in some ways they are. But at a deeper level of the story, ultimately what becomes clear is that in some ways Lou is the villain of her own story.

You could even say the hero of the story is actually Lou’s rising conscience and the true conflict really in this show is not so much between Lou and Col, because he has his own story happening, but it’s between Lou and her own conscience. Her conscience is in many ways the true antagonist of the show.

What was the inspiration behind the story?

Jonathan: The inspiration for this story came a few years ago when Sam and I were kicking around
some ideas around a gangster show.

But what we came to realise quite quickly is that it was a bit too simplistic, and we wanted to get a bit deeper into the ideas of why do bad people do what they do?

Sam: And on the flip side, why do good people do what they do?

And so, we eventually developed the idea to incorporate a much more juicy and complex character on the side of the police who is a corrupt police detective, and how that person sees themself as ostensibly a good person while still doing bad things and then comes to realise that they’re actually, possibly a bad person, and how do they go about correcting that?

Sam: Redemption is not an uncommon theme in stories but usually, it’s like a lightning strike moment.

There’s somebody bad and then they make the decision to be good and lightning strikes, and then
from that point on, they’re good.

And Jon and I, in talking about that, we said, well, wouldn’t redemption for somebody truly bad be not a single moment and an about turn in how they see the world, but a long, painful struggle against their own rising conscience and how they tried to bargain and wrestle with their conscience.

Once we had this notion of redemption being a long, hard road rather than a single moment, that’s when the story really started to flow.

What do you think makes Better stand out from other police dramas?

Jonathan: Better is a crime drama, but we’ve been trying to do something a bit different in that we’re
avoiding the procedural elements of a show like that.

It is about a police officer and a gangster, but it’s not a good guy, bad guy story. It’s not cops and robbers. It’s a very much a character based drama where we see these people in a 360-degree view of their entire lives.

Sam: Better is absolutely not a police procedural, certainly not a whodunit, because the person who ‘done it’ is the hero.

They are in one person and that’s very clear from the first moment. It really is about exploring who she is, why she did these things and how she’s going to turn back if she can.

This isn’t the first-time you have worked together. Can you tell us about your writing process?

Jonathan: The writing process is a lengthy one.

It always starts with an awful lot of talking. Talking, chatting, coming up with little nuggets or concepts here and there, and once we’ve got enough of those, it tends to congeal into, oh yes, this is an idea that will support a fully-fledged TV show, and from that then we’ll always start with character.

Jonathan: So, in this case it was Lou, and Col came alongside.

We talk about those and build out the story from those characters and what they would do. And from there it’s a lengthy outlining process.

Going through the whole series, developing the stories, and then we eventually get to writing those
scripts.

As we’re writing the scripts, they inevitably develop and change quite a lot as we’re writing.

It must be exciting to see Lou and Col come to life on screen, played by Leila Farzad and Andrew Buchan. Tell us about the casting process and the choices behind those two actors.

Sam: In terms of casting, we were pretty unified early on that Leila would be such an interesting choice.

Everybody on the team and involved with the decision loved her performance in I Hate Suzie and we just thought she would bring something really fresh and unexpected to what is hopefully a very interesting and rich character. And she just has so many qualities that help with that.

Leila brings an effortless charm, magnetism, humour, all qualities she has as a person she brings to her performance, which really acts as an effective counterweight to the bad things that we see Lou doing in the misdeeds and really helps shape this person into a complete rounded character.

Sam: With Andrew Buchan as Col, he is such an incredibly intelligent actor, and you can see what he’s doing at a microscopic level.

There’s one particular moment in the show where Lou is talking to him, and we wanted Andrew to portray Col realising that she’s lying to him. And when we watched it back you can actually see the exact moment that Andrew does this. So, he’s an actor with exceptional control and his performance as Col is really fabulous.

We couldn’t be happier with the two of them and all of our cast.

There are so many new and interesting faces. And then there’s also the likes of Anton Lesser…this cast really is sensational.

Can you tell us about the character of Owen, Lou’s son, who is played by Zak Ford Williams.

Sam: The character of Owen, Lou’s beloved son, is absolutely crucial to the story.

The nature of the series means that Owen has a disability following on from the events of the first episode and we always wanted and needed to cast an actor with a disability, but what we wrote in the story was quite specific.

So, we ended up coming across Zak, who was found by our brilliant casting director, Sonia Allen, and the nature of his disability did not tally with the character’s, but we collaborated and spoke to him, and we took medical advice and we were able to change the character’s journey and the scripts to make it fit and make it work.

And we’re so glad we did that because it meant that we could have Zak, who is the heart of the whole thing, he’s the reason this whole story exists.

Anton Lesser plays Vernon in this series. Can you tell us about his role?

Jonathan: Vernon is the ghost of Christmas future.

He’s what Lou could be if she continued down the path she is on. He is a wonderfully corrupt, immoral, cynical, disgraced, former police officer who lives completely alone in squalor with this mangy old dying cat.

And to get somebody of Anton’s class to play this role is an absolute gift.

How did Lou manage to live this double life for so long, physically and mentally?

Sam: Lou has been able to lead this double life because she’s very clever, she’s very skilful, she’s
extremely careful, like Col is.

She’s not too greedy or rash. Neither of them is psychotic. So, they’re kind of perfect criminals in that way. But the main reason that she’s been able to do this for this long, is because she has been lying to herself.

Jonathan: A large part of that is that she doesn’t believe that she’s a bad person.

She believes that what she’s doing is right.

She’s managed to convince herself and negotiate with her conscience to understand that what she’s doing is for the greater good. But purely by the fact that Col gives her information and she uses that information to catch other bad people, and in return she’s able to nudge Col in the direction to manage him, to try and pull back on some of his more criminal tendencies.

In her mind, she’s used this relationship to make things better for the city and the people of Leeds. So there’s a lot of sort of complex compartmentalisation going on in Lou’s mind.

What is the boiling point? What ultimately makes Lou decide it’s time to get out of this double life?

Jonathan: The catalyst for Lou coming to the realisation that she needs to do something about the life that she’s leading at this time is the illness and the near-death experience of someone close to her.

That’s the trigger for this journey that she goes on over the rest of the series.

But it’s not a Damascene conversion. It’s a very instinctive feeling she gets about how she has to do something; she has to change. And it’s only through her journey over the entire series that she comes to realise that the reason why she has to do it is quite possibly because she’s a bad person and she needs to understand and atone for that in some way.

Why did you base the series in Leeds?

Jonathan: It was very important for us to set it somewhere with its own distinct identity.

Somewhere that could become sort of a character, a part of the show in its own right.

Sam: Our executive producer Jane Featherstone has connections to Leeds, and so she suggested it,
and it was just perfect.

It’s such a vibrant, cosmopolitan, interesting characterful city. Once we decided to set it in Leeds, it was about opening the whole thing up to as many cast and crew members as we could find to imbue it with that authentic flavour of the place.

Do you have a favourite location from the shoot?

Jonathan: We filmed at such a wonderful array of places in Leeds over the shoot.

Plumpton Rocks up near Harrogate was an amazing location to shoot. We shot there twice, once in the day and once again overnight, which serves as the finale of the show. It’s such a striking, wonderful place with these amazing rock formations and a manmade lake which felt like an evocative place to set the emotional finale of our show.

Sam: We also used a former disused police station as our production base, which was quite an amazing place to have as your base, there were cells in the basement, which were fairly eerie, having not been used for 15, 20 years.

What journey do you hope audiences are going to go on when watching the series?

Sam: We hope audiences are massively compelled by the central moral journey that Lou goes on in
this story.

There is something innately compelling and fascinating about these issues of good or bad.

There is a definite universality to this story, even though the examples we’re dealing with are extreme and it’s a very dark thriller full of high stakes, and blood is spilled and not everybody makes it out, but those themes underneath that layer of drama touch everybody’s lives.


Interview with Leila Farzad (D.I. Lou Slack)

Can you tell us about the premise of Better and what your initial reaction to the scripts was?

Better is a morality tale about a bent DI, Lou Slack played by myself, and her quest for redemption and I found the scripts utterly compelling. I found the character of Lou to be a brilliant, well-rounded woman, written with humour, wit, and humanity, which isn’t always the case.

Can you tell us a little more about your character, Lou?

Lou is incredibly complex because she has a completely ruthless, callous side to her.

But she’s also a loving mother, a loving wife, and a loving friend, and is incredibly bright and good at her job. But she’s also a deceitful, manipulative, morally corrupt woman.

So, she’s multi-layered, I would say!

Can you explain the interesting relationship between Lou and Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan)? Who is Col to Lou and how did their paths initially cross? How did they come to be so present in each other’s lives?

It’s a very complicated relationship.

When we first meet them, it’s an intense relationship that has an element of friendship but there’s quite an intimate power play between these two people.

Early on, something very triggering happens to Lou, and she finds herself having to let go of this person, Col, who was so integral to her life.

The crux of the story is that Col goes from friend to foe, which is why the story gathers momentum.

Why has kept Lou working for Col after all these years, why do these two find it so difficult to let
go of each other?

Lou has had a lot of positives come out of her relationship with Col.

She’s risen in the ranks, she’s been able to do a lot of good stuff, as well as the bad stuff. As the years have gone on, he’s got her to do more and more dangerous favours, which she’s turned a blind eye to.

I don’t know if you’d call it love but there’s something there that means that she’s not quite able to block him out of her life.

He lives sort of dormant in her at all times.

What’s it been like working opposite Andrew, had you met or worked together before?

We never worked together before.

He’s a dream to work with. He’s utterly open and generous and so highly skilled at what he does. I felt very lucky to be working with him on set every day.

What’s it been like working with the rest of the cast, specifically with the actors who play Lou’s son, Owen (Zak Ford Williams) and her husband, Ceri (Sam Edward Cook)?

They were also an absolute dream.

Sam and I had an instant banter, we shared a sense of humour, which was great and really good at building the sense of the marriage that has been going on for years.

Zak was a delight, so open and warm and easy to connect with. We went for some “family meals” in Leeds to try and build the sense of familial bonding between us. I must mention Anton Lesser as well, because working with him was a pinch me moment, because he’s just utterly brilliant and so welcoming and affable to spend time with.

Can you tell us about Lou and Ceri’s relationship? Does Lou’s involvement with Col put a strain on
it?

Of course it puts a strain on it. You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you.

That’s the kind of expression that comes to mind a lot with this show. Unfortunately, Col is the hand that feeds both Ceri and Lou and has helped Ceri set up his business as his business flows through Col.

They’ve lived with the elephant in the room, which is Col, but the elephant has been getting bigger and bigger and is now squashing them and making it hard to breathe.

There’s a claustrophobia when we first meet them.

Maybe it started as an equal relationship, but Col has become a very stifling presence in their
marriage.

Lou’s son, Owen, has a health scare early on in the series. How did you deal with this? And how does it change the lens in which she views her dealings with Col?

It’s a huge turning point for Lou, the ramifications of her son nearly dying means that she can’t quite face herself.

It holds up a mirror to all her immoral history. All of the things she’s done that are wrong, that she’s turned a blind eye to suddenly flood to the surface of her conscience, and she can’t continue as she has been in the past.

So, she deals with it, I’d say, pretty badly.

How has working on a drama encouraged you to rethink how we judge our own morality and traditional assumption that people are either good or bad?

Part of what drew me to this project in the first place was that I’ve always been anti-binary when looking at things.

There is always grey, and no matter how terrible something appears to be, you must put things in context and understand why they’ve happened rather than just judge.

Especially with social media, we live in a world where people want to judge and immediately put things in boxes.

We’ve also been fed television where there’s a baddie and a goodie. So, what is so interesting about this drama is that it’s all blurred.

You get to understand the reasons for the immoral, ‘bad behaviour’, and you perhaps empathise with someone who is behaving in a grotesque manner, and that’s interesting because life is not black and white.

Do you believe everyone is worthy of a second chance, do you think people are truly able to
change?

I’d like to hope that people can truly change, although I think some things are beyond redemption.

There is a line, of course, of something that is utterly morally reproachable, and you cannot come back from it.

But the willingness to change and to acknowledge your behaviour, is the first step towards redemption.

What was it like to film in Leeds? Can you tell us some of your favourite locations?

It was an absolute treat.

It’s such a beautiful city.

Being able to see the town hall every day, filming in places like the corn exchange, there’s wonderful places to eat and being by the canal… it’s a real mixture of old and new. It was incredible to immerse myself in it for the time that I was shooting there.

90% of the crew were based in Manchester or Leeds so talking to them every day really helped fuel the motor of Lou Slack and imbued me with an extra something.

What are you most excited for audiences to see and why should they watch Better?

I’m excited for people to see a woman who is unapologetically grappling with big ugly issues and sometimes she’s pretty unpleasant and ruthless to watch.

I’m hoping that the audience will question their idea of morality and ask where the line is drawn.

What makes this series different from all other crime dramas?

It’s not procedural, and it’s not black and white.

The protagonist is neither fully good nor fully bad, none of the characters are. There’s not a straight line towards an antagonist or a protagonist.

What journey do you want the audience to go on when they watch this series?

I want them to question their own take on morality and on good and bad.

I want them to empathise with everyone and understand that if a person behaves in a certain way, it’s the result of a series of things that have happened in their past rather than what’s happening at that very moment.


Interview with Andrew Buchan (Col McHugh)

Could you tell us about, Better?

Better is a character piece.

It’s neither a cop show nor a whodunnit. It’s about a female detective, played by Leila Farzad, who, as a way of forwarding her career, becomes embroiled with this crime boss, played by myself. The two of them began giving each other tip offs and turning a blind eye to things as a way of forwarding their careers and ascending the ladder and that escalated over the years.

The two characters are very intertwined. It makes the unravelling of their lives incredibly interesting.

It’s a role that is unlike anything you’ve done before. Was that a draw for you to play something different, someone who is a challenge?

Yeah, of course.

Col McHugh is a very complex, flawed individual, who has had a childhood littered with deprivation and humiliation. He’s been raised by an alcoholic father which has thrown fuel on his fire and given him a drive in life, because he doesn’t want to become his dad. So that’s what propels him forward; this reluctance to emulate or become part of the circle of his family.

So, with all that in mind, I found him brilliantly challenging to play, and complex and difficult.

Where and how is Col when we first meet him?

At the beginning of our story, we find him running on empty because of certain family trauma.

But he’d never really confessed that to anyone, and he’s never faced up to that.

How did Col and Lou become to be so present in each other’s lives? And where do we find them when we kick off with the series?

They’ve been friends for nearly 20 years.

Col grew up in Northern Ireland as part of a big crime family and one branch of that family existed in Leeds. So, he was sent to Leeds to handle that branch of things.

Shortly after he arrived, he was brought in over a minor misdemeanour and had to deal with a young Lou Slack. He realised that if he volunteered a certain piece of information then maybe she could do something for him down the line.

So, this relationship flourished and helped forward their lives and careers. So, we join them 20 years on and they’re very good friends and involved in each other’s lives. Then something happens to a member of Lou’s family which makes her question her own conscience and whether she should be professionally involved with this man.

But the roots of their lives are so twisted and wrapped around each other, it’s hard to untangle and break free.

What was it like working with Leila Farzad and building this on-screen, symbiotic relationship?

Leila was terrific. She’s just effortless.

She was a complete professional and a joy to work with. She brought something new and interesting to every scene. She gives the role brilliant weight and intensity. All her scenes were exciting and brilliant.

How does Col’s family trauma effect the decisions he makes through the series?

Col is sitting on a secret that he hasn’t quite faced up to, and doesn’t want to talk to anyone about, so he’s buried it down.

But he is aware that the fire that was once there, to build his business, has died a little. He doesn’t know what to do about that.

So, when Lou has her moment in the middle of episode one and begins questioning everything, we join Col as he’s starting to question everything too. So, you get these two uncertain forces colliding which gives them some interesting material.

Could you tell me about the relationship Col has with his wife, Alma (Carolin Stoltz)?

Like any partnership that has to deal with loss or trauma, they’re two very fractured individuals.

In many ways, they’re just existing.

She’s aware that he’s reluctant to talk about it and that causes more anger and pain. As a result, he’s actively chosen not to give any attention to his son (played by Ceallach Spellman), which is heart-breaking.

So, there’s a huge ripple effect from the storm. They’re living in this big palatial house, but it’s filled with a sadness.

What was it like filming in Leeds?

I’ve worked there once before when I did the ABC murders with John Malkovich and Rupert Grint.

So, I was back there in the same hotel, I thought, ‘This is where I used to have pints with Rupert!” It was surreal!

Leeds is a brilliant place, it’s such an amazing city. It’s so vibrant and full of life with brilliant people and the banter’s class!

Do you have any specifically memorable moments from your time shooting this drama?

The big 11 pager scene in episode four was huge challenge and it was good to get through that day.

It was a long day, and there were all kinds of complications. It became a bit like a piece of theatre where you could relax and experiment.

So that’s when it became challenging but in a fun way. I remember when the actors playing Col’s henchmen first walked towards me. Bulgy played by Gary Cooper and Lord Roy played by Mark Monero and I remember thinking at the time; “I know who you guys are playing!” Their faces were kind of terrifying but as soon as they started speaking, they were so giggly.

We’d often have days in the back of that Land Rover just laughing our faces off.

What are you most looking forward to audiences seeing, why should people watch Better?

You’ve got to watch it for Leila.

She carries the show and she’s brilliant in it, very complex and unpredictable. So as each episode goes on it’s fascinating to see her character’s flaws, weaknesses, and strengths develop.

She’s brilliant in it.

What journey do you want the audience to go on?

It’s someone questioning their own conscience and the decisions they’ve made possibly for the good of their family?

Were they the right decisions, were the wrong decisions? Who are we to say? Does she redeem herself? Can she redeem herself? Are people redeemable? It’s fascinating the way that it’s written as it poses all of these moral questions.

In this series you’re dealing with flawed individuals, as there are in all aspects of life, regardless of profession.

It’s interesting to see how they deal with particular circumstances and situations, but I don’t think you arrive at the end with a clear idea of what is good or bad. Hopefully, you will be able to empathise with their journeys and decisions in some way or another.

Interview with Samuel Edward-Cook

What made the scripts so compelling to read? Can you remember what your initial reaction was to the scripts?

We see a lot of series which focus on crime and police corruption or dramas with similar themes.

However, I felt that with Better, the script was very funny. The writers, Sam and Jon, are both hilarious and that really does feed into the story. The drama deals with a lot of heavy themes, however, there are some very funny moments in there. Also, it’s not just another police drama or detective drama, it really focuses on a core family and how the choices of Lou, our protagonist, effect this family and the relationships within that.

It’s quite refreshing to read the scripts and see how the dynamics within the family change and move and the highs and the lows. Better is very different to series I’ve either watched or scripts that I’ve read.

Can you tell us who your character, Ceri, is?

Ceri is Lou’s husband.

They are childhood sweethearts and have been married for a long time and they have a son called Owen, who is 17 now.

Ceri has his own business, he works construction, and he is very much privy to Lou’s other life and the work she does outside of her working hours, and we watch Ceri try to manoeuvre the family through the effects of Lou’s other career.

What was it that drew you to this role?

Ceri goes on a real journey and emotional rollercoaster throughout this series.

He is very happily married when we meet him, with a beautiful son and a lovely home and he owns a business.

On the outside everything looks great, however, certain events throughout the series take Ceri to quite dark places and he really goes through some serious highs and lows.

You see him trying to hold his family together and going through very vulnerable moments at times, and as an actor that’s exactly what you want.

How would you describe Ceri and Lou’s relationship, do you think there’s a power dynamic struggle?

Ceri and Lou’s relationship is interesting because they’ve been together for a long time.

They’re a relatively young couple but they have a strong bond and have been through a lot together. Lou is a fiercely independent woman and very driven and her career has absolutely taken a front seat in their relationship, which Ceri has supported.

But anybody who is married to a police officer or someone who works in a position of authority or power, they have to take a back seat in their relationship at times to allow their partner to do their job.

Lou is definitely the breadwinner, and she definitely wears the trousers, but they have this bond like no other, purely because they’ve been through a lot together, they’ve been together for such a long time, and they have this really strong connection and love for each other. For Lou, it’s her outlet from this incredible pressure that she’s under as a police officer, but also from the other work that she does.

Ceri is her sanctuary, and Ceri is very happy to be that for her.

Can you tell us about the moment in the series where everything changes for Ceri and Lou?

There’s a point in the story where their son, Owen, is gravely ill and that has a huge effect on their relationship.

This is the first time that their relationship has been seriously tested in this way. Because of her work with Col, Lou was not around when Owen was ill and so there’s a certain amount of resentment there from Ceri, which is heightened because of the work that she’s continuing to do.

The relationship is really tested, and the power dynamic definitely shifts because for once Ceri is on the front foot and he says this isn’t right, we have a son and he has to be the priority.

That causes Lou to face up to what the priorities are in her life. For the first time, Ceri has to assert some power in the relationship rather than just support Lou in what she’s doing.

How do you think Lou’s relationship with Col effects their marriage?

Col and Lou’s relationship is an interesting one because Ceri is very aware that there’s been three people in this marriage for a very long time.

Col represents Lou’s career and ambitiousness. Ceri trusts Lou and doesn’t question her loyalty to their marriage or their family however, he does have concerns and worries about her safety and about the kind of work she might be doing for Col because not too much is revealed to Ceri, although he’s aware that Lou is working for a notorious gangster.

Lou is very careful with how much she reveals to Ceri about the nature of the work that she’s doing. Ceri lives with this constant concern and anxiety about her safety, about what she’s doing, and about the ramifications that it might have on their family.

But he’s made that choice to support her in that, so has to live with that and suppress those anxieties as much as he can.

Do you think Ceri worries that perhaps Lou is one of the bad guys too? Do you think he questions
her morals?

I don’t think Ceri’s ever questioned whether Lou is one of the bad guys until the point in the story where we’re faced with this dilemma as a family and Lou considers leaving this life and the work she has been doing with Col. At that point, Ceri is questioning where Lou stands morally.

She has worked for Col and in this life for so long that it’s a part of who she is now as a person. But over the last 18, 19 years, that Lou’s been involved in this life, Ceri’s seen the benefits. Col has supported this family financially for a long time; they’ve got a beautiful home and he has shares in their apartment and in Ceri’s business, in his construction company.

So, I don’t think Ceri’s had a reason, up until this point, to question whether what Lou’s doing is a good thing or a bad thing. This is part of the journey that Ceri goes on in the drama and there is a definite moment where Ceri questions whether Lou has stepped too far over the line that she can’t come back.

What’s that experience been like shooting in Leeds?

I’m a local lad, I’m from York originally, but I know Leeds very well and I spent a lot of time here as a kid.

So, it’s lovely to be up north and to be near home for a while. Leeds is a great city and the local crew have been brilliant. Most of us are all from up north and it’s just lovely, it’s a big family.

Leeds as a city is fantastic. It’s a great place to work and there’s never a dull moment. I’m actually staying right in the centre of Leeds, and it is pretty wild on a weekend, it’s a thriving city.


Interview with Zak Ford-Williams (Owen)

Can you please tell us what Better is about and the role you’re playing?

Better is a modern day morality tale that centres around my character’s mother, played by Leila Farzad, who has been a corrupt police detective for about 20 years, and there is a tragic event early on that propels Lou to suddenly decides to become a better person, leaving her old ways behind.

However, certain people that she has been working with for about 20 years disagree with her decision and make it very difficult for her to leave that life behind.

There’s a lot of twists and turns, it has you on the edge of your seat.

What makes the scripts so compelling to read, and what was your initial reaction to reading them?

Reading the scripts really gave me a full sense of this world and these people, and there are so many jaw-dropping moments, and “oh my God, how are they going to get out of this?” moments, it was really exciting.

I could imagine watching it on the telly and feeling all of that emotion. I also really liked Owen when I read him, he is a proper person with his own story, and his own thoughts and beliefs and ideas and I really liked his journey.

I got very attached to him when reading it.

Why do you think Better is different from other gangster crime dramas?

A lot of crime dramas have these goodies and the baddies, heroes and the villains and it’s very rare that we see the blurred lines between who is good and who is bad and are forced to question why we think of good and bad in that way and is anyone really good or evil?

We’ve also seen a lot of stories about someone being twisted and slowly turning bad, but what does it mean for someone who doesn’t think they’re bad, but has done a lot of bad things, and is trying to be different?

Those are the questions that Better poses that make it stand apart from other crime dramas.

What do you think are the other main key themes of the show?

Family is a huge theme in Better, the idea of how that sort of bond can bring you back to who you are.

It examines that question of who is the person that you are and how is that informed by your circumstances and how you were raised?

Are we a product of our environment?

Or is it nature versus nurture?

What drew you to the character of Owen and made you want to be a part of this project?

I really felt for him.

He goes through a lot of experiences in his life that are similar to some experiences I had when I was younger, and I got quite emotional when reading the scripts. I really understood this person and so I was very excited to explore him and to construct this character that I felt connected to.

Representation is important because assomeone growing up who was always fascinated with wanting to be an actor, I struggled a lot, because I never really saw myself on screen, and when that happens, you get these doubts, saying, is this really for me?

Am I welcome in this?

Conscious or otherwise, the message that you get is I am not welcome in this space. This space is not for me.

It’s very important for me that these characters and disabled people are shown, because then people can be inspired by that and people like seeing themselves on screen and like having their stories told. The really important thing with representation is we’re always on the lookout for new stories to tell.

We don’t want to watch the same program fifty different times and one of the main ways to do that is to take loads of different people from different backgrounds, and places, and life experiences, and tell their
stories.

Use the breadth of human experience.

Where do we find Owen at the start of the series and what journey does he go on?

Owen’s journey is one of self-acceptance.

Owen is at a time of his life that a lot of us are familiar with, a time where you’re still finding yourself and exploring who you are and how other people view you and you’ve got all this anxiety.

Then something happens, which changes Owen’s physical self quite dramatically and this is at a time in his life where he’s already worried about how he’s perceived and what he looks like and what people think of him. It can be very difficult, and I feel like it’s a journey of finding yourself, of self-acceptance and dealing with a new version of yourself.

How do you think his health scare shapes his character? How does it impact him?

Speaking from my own experience, I had quite a similar health scare when I was his age and it changed me quite physically, and when you’re that age it can pull you back into yourself, and you can get this desperate feeling of wanting to hide yourself away and because you’re not sure who you are and what you’re perceived as, there can be a huge disconnect between the way you see yourself and the way you are.

You can go, “this isn’t me”, but that’s the thing, it is you and there’s a lot that comes with the perception of disability and I feel Owen is more accepting of that than his parents possibly are.

They have more of a journey, he finds this person and accepts this person more, but the difficulty for them is because he’s their son and they love him, they’ve known him since he was tiny, and they believe they know who he is.

I feel it’s quite common with parents of children who become disabled, they’re like, “this is not the child that I know. This is not my child…”. Which is quite pertinent and not just for disability.

When children find out things about themselves that have always been true, but that challenge their parents’ perception, or their friends’ perception of them, there can be quite a backlash towards that and creates great drama.

Can you describe Owen’s relationship with his parents?

Lou likes to keep both sides of her life very separate, as sometimes people often do when they have secrets, we like to put things in boxes, and she has very defined boxes and likes to keep her dealings secret.

The trouble is, she finds, when the story goes on, that she can’t do that any longer. I feel like Owen’s always known something isn’t right, but it really challenges his perception of his parents.

Are they different people than he knew?

Is his mum the person that he knows, that raised him? Can this person that I love and who has cherished me, can they also do all of these things?

It’s a tricky realisation that they are the same person and it’s a very interesting element to play.

How’s it been working with Leila and Samuel?

Leila and Samuel are absolutely lovely people and the best compliment I can give them is that finding the family bond was not difficult in the slightest.

We’ve become quite close; I loved working with them and building that familial rapport that we have together.

They’re great people and actors to explore that with.

It’s been a joy to work with Leila and Sam.

Do you think Owen has any idea what’s going on with Lou and her double life? Do you think he has an inkling early on?

I think children are very aware when something’s not right with their parents.

They may not always know the reasoning behind it, but they can sense things and I feel like he’s always had this sense that something’s not quite right.

However, I don’t think he quite realises that his mother is doing all the morally dubious things that she does and so the realisation of that is quite shocking to him.

Can you describe Owen’s relationship with James (Ceallach Spellman) and how that evolves?

Owen’s relationship with James is really interesting, because he has this huge health scare and his selfperception has shifted very dramatically and he’s got all this worry and anxiety about finding himself and who he is now and then he meets this person, James, who, just seems to understand him, and to accept him possibly even more than Owen himself does.

As a result, I really do feel like Owen begins to love James.

However, what’s tragic about this is that sense of understanding that Owen feels and gets from James is ultimately not what he thinks it is and this person that he loves isn’t who he thinks they are and that’s interesting to watch, it was definitely very interesting to play.

Who do you think are the real villains and heroes in this series?

Well, there are characters who we would describe as ‘evil’ or ‘bad’, but even they have their own
justifications and reasons for doing what they do.

These may be lies that they tell themselves to justify their actions. One of the things I particularly like about this drama is that even the ‘bad’ characters would still describe themselves as the heroes. In their minds, they have reasons for doing what they do, and that makes it really interesting to watch.


Interview with Anton Lesser (Vernon)

Can you tell us about your character Vernon?

Vernon is a bent ex-detective.

Throughout his whole career, he was up for sale for anybody, for anything and he avoided going to prison by doing a deal. His life has been, in his own estimation, a complete waste.

He’s lost his career. He’s lost his wife. He’s lost his house. He’s lost friends. And the arrival of Lou Slack (Leila Farzad), in a way, gives Vernon the opportunity to do one redeeming act and make sense of an otherwise very senseless life.

When he served as a detective, Vernon was in the same unit as Lou’s father, who was somewhat of a hero to her. However, through Lou’s interaction with Vernon, we get a different picture of this man.

Vernon’s perspective of him was of a vain cop whose greatest talent was to take credit for other people’s hard work. Vernon had no time for this man, and so it’s an ironic coincidence that his daughter now comes to Vernon for help.

How do Vernon and Lou’s paths cross in this series and how does their relationship evolve?

Vernon’s relationship with Lou begins with her coming to ask him for help, ostensibly because she’s trying to work out the mindset of a fellow police officer who is corrupt.

It doesn’t take long for Vernon to realise that she’s the one looking for help, she’s the one who’s in trouble. Vernon starts to realise that he may be able to help Lou because of his own experience with organised crime and with corruption.

Over the series their relationship gets quite complex as they grow closer and go through many ups and downs. Vernon gets it very badly wrong at one point and completely exposes Lou to even more danger than she would have been if she’d never met him.

But then it moves on again to another phase where he makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Is Vernon on the quest for redemption? Do you think he considered redemption before he met Lou?

I have a feeling that somebody like Vernon would assume that there is no possibility for redemption, that the course of their life has been such that he has just accepted things as they are, that it’s not going to get better.

At one point Vernon actually says, ‘I knew when I took this course of action what the consequences would be, and I took them.’ So, a bit like my favourite character in all of literature, who is Sydney Carton in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, I don’t think redemption enters his mind until a moment of opportunity arises. In Carton’s case, he can find redemption because of a curious set of circumstances, but he’s never thought about it before, and I believe Vernon is the same.

This woman walked into his life after a series of terrible life choices, and suddenly there’s an opportunity. However, I don’t think he sees it until the very last minute when something huge happens and he responds spontaneously.

It is not premeditated but this might be a way out for Vernon, and from that moment, he finds a kind of peace. It’s bonus, but it’s not something that we’ve been seeing as something planned at all.

Do you think Vernon’s circumstances are a warning to Lou about how she might end up?

When Lou visits Vernon for the first time, she sees the extraordinary situation he’s in.

The house is a terrible mess.

There are bills everywhere unpaid. His reputation is shot and he’s in constant danger, he keeps a gun under the garden gnome and one in the drawer in the kitchen. It’s not new to her.

She’s been around and she’s seen terrible things and done some pretty bad things. But as the piece goes on, you get the sense of this being potentially the end of the story for her, that this could happen to her, that must impact on her more and more and drives her further and further into desperation.


Interview with Ceallach Spellman (Donal McHugh)

What was your initial reaction when you read the scripts?

The thing that struck me most about the scripts was the detail in it, and that comes from the two writers, Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley. I really enjoyed Humans and similarly with this drama, you could see that they’d leant into focusing on the characters. I found it gripping straightaway.

For me, if I start a script, and I finish it in one sitting, it’s a good sign…and I finished it in one sitting!

Could you tell me about Donal’s journey throughout this series?

When we meet Donal, he’s this lad that’s trying to find his way in the world. You meet him at quite an interesting point where he’s still in a state of grief because he’s lost someone close to him and that is coupled with existing and being brought up in his dad’s world.

Not many people get brought up with their dad running an illegal empire, which adds to the pressure of him trying to live up to his dad’s expectations.

Is he cut out for this world? He knows, and the audience will see it too, that he’s probably not like his dad deep down, but he doesn’t know anything else.

Interestingly, it’s his relationship with Owen (Zak Ford Williams), Lou’s son, that brings up all these parts of him.

I don’t think he’s had many friends because he’s only ever existed in the world that his dad built, and his dad’s got to where he is by being very private, very secretive and as a result Donal has been very isolated.

Owen allows him to just exist in the real world for the first time. There’s also a little bit of a question in there about his sexuality. For me personally, that was just something that I found, while sitting with Donal.

What’s Donal’s relationship with his dad like?

Quite fractured. He spent most of his time growing up with his dad, so he looks up to him.

But ultimately, he wants a relationship with his dad, but Col could never give him that. I don’t think they’ve ever had a heart to heart.

They’ve never shown any form of love to one another. And he’s constantly been put down and just been told that he’s not great by his dad. So, it’s a very fragile relationship.

What was that like to build this fractured relationship with Andrew? Had you met or worked with him before?

I can’t speak highly enough about Andy.

I really love Andy and I really enjoyed getting to share a space with him. I am a young actor so when you get to work with actors like Andy, it’s a joy because you just step back, open your eyes, listen and learn, he was brilliant. On and off set! The character he created in Col was class.

Andy’s effortless and he’s got such a gift with his ear and his voice. He’s got this quiet power and control.

I really, really loved getting to work with him and explore that relationship with him.

What was it like filming in Leeds?

My mum’s from Dewsbury which isn’t too far from Leeds.

So, I had spent time in Leeds, I’ve got a couple of friends up there, but I hadn’t been back for a while. It was amazing to see how Leeds had changed.

There was there such a vibrancy to it, so much going on. It had these distinct, cool areas, so to spend time there was mint. Filming there was class and I just love the north in general.

Being from Manchester, it’s a home away from home. It’s great to see more series being made up north. There are more characters being written for working class people, northern working-class people and whilst more can be done, it’s so great to have these dramas that are set in these places and set in that world.

I just hope that we’ve done Leeds justice and that people from Leeds and Yorkshire are happy with that as well.

What do you think makes Better stand apart?

What’s so interesting and different about Better is that it focuses on the human element of the drama.

A lot of crime dramas are about catching the perpetrator, or watching the gangster do all this dark and dirty stuff, whereas this is set in a real world of truth and reality and you’re with the people, and you’re asking questions of the people. It makes you ask questions of your own morality, and your own feelings, your own sense of justice, what’s right and what’s wrong.

It feels like a family drama set in the crime world, rather than a usual crime drama.

What journey would you like the audience to go on when they watch Better?

I hope that they stick with us and feel compelled to watch the next episode!

When the audience watch the first two episodes and they form their thoughts and feelings on someone or something, I’m quite interested to see if those opinions change as people watch the series.

Does it make people question themselves? I hope people enjoy it and it takes them on a journey that they haven’t been on when watching a crime drama.

The journey I want them to go on is that Donal is their favourite character!

Do you think people are binary; good or bad? Or do you think people can truly change and has working on this drama made you re-evaluate the way that you think?

Personally, I do believe people can change.

I think it would be a very sad, bleak, and depressing world if people can’t change.

Secondly, I personally must believe people can change because, outside of acting, I do a lot of work around the environment and to see the system change that the world needs, not just for the planet, but for people, we need to change. It’s about changing habits, changing your opinions, and changing your feelings. I think people can change and people can grow.

But that comes through learning, listening and through experiences. If you allow people to educate themselves, if you allow people to sit, think and learn, then people can change. Absolutely. Not everyone.

Sometimes people are made up, but the majority of the time, you definitely can change, and the series has just solidified that belief.


EPISODE SYNOPSES

Episode One

Leeds-based Detective Inspector Louisa ‘Lou’ Slack has a dark secret.

Though everyone else sees an upstanding citizen and accomplished police officer, few of them know that for the last twenty years, she has been in the pocket of Leeds’s pre-eminent drug trafficker, Col McHugh; the two have used each other to climb up the ranks in their respective careers, becoming close friends and confidants in the process. When Lou’s son Owen falls critically ill, she undergoes a moral awakening. Lou sets about making amends for her years of wrongdoing. However, she soon realises that to change her ways she may have to work against Col, potentially putting herself in danger.

Episode Two

Lou invites further suspicion when she fails to warn Col about a police raid in time, so Col decides to test her, unaware that Lou is considering quitting the force altogether. Owen finally returns home from the hospital to face a new normal and joins a support group, while Lou and Esther make a shocking discovery during the raid. Col’s suppliers cannot increase their shipment of drugs to him, slowing down his plans for expansion. Unable to decide how to stop working for Col, Lou tracks down an old colleague of her father for advice but puts herself in a potentially compromising position.

Episode Three

Col’s latest attempt to procure an additional supply of drugs comes up short, while Lou decides not to quit her job, instead joining a taskforce targeting Col. Determined to come up with a viable plan to take Col down, Lou and Vernon’s efforts backfire, potentially triggering a gang war. Col, relentless in his desire to grow his empire, prepares to take up arms. Lou rushes to offer a last-ditch alternative to war that threatens to blow her cover completely. Meanwhile, Owen and Donal grow ever closer. Ceri, now aware Lou is actively working against Col, issues Lou with an ultimatum if she ever puts him or Owen in anger. Esther’s frustrations with her job lead to an increased curiosity about Lou’s unorthodox style of policing.

Episode Four

Following Lou’s confession to Esther, Lou goes for a last-ditch attempt to bring Col down potentially compromising her – but things do not go exactly as she hoped. Owen and Donal take an impromptu trip together and their relationship reaches a head while Lou and Col have a heated argument about the morality of Col’s line of work. Owen continues to be frustrated by his parents’ insistence on keeping things from him. Feeling powerless, Ceri resorts to drastic action in order to defend his family. Bulgey decides to take matters into his own hands.

Episode Five

Lou tries to start afresh at her job and tries to live a good life by other means but is stymied by her own lingering guilt and Col’s continuing freedom. In search of deeper understanding, she pays her estranged mother a visit. Lord Roy seizes an opportunity to consolidate his position at the top of Col’s organisation and seeks revenge for his friend’s death. Unable to let this pass, Lou lures Col out for a fateful meeting, and the true path to her redemption is finally revealed.


How Much Did You Enjoy BBC Drama, BETTER?

Would you like to see the characters return to Leeds for a second season? Did you binge watch the whole thing on BBC iPlayer on day one? Leave a comment, below.

Related Accommodation

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Novotel Leeds Centre

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23 Clarendon Road, Leeds, LS2 9NZ, United Kingdom

The Smeaton at Claremont Apartments

Claremont, 23 Clarendon Road, Leeds, LS2 9NZ, United Kingdom

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