Summer of Rockets - written and directed by the multi-award-winning Stephen Poliakoff
Introduction by Stephen Poliakoff, writer and director
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"Summer of Rockets is a six-part series for BBC Two, set in 1958, which was an extraordinary year. It saw the end of the debs [debutantes] being presented to the queen. It was also a time of great fear of nuclear war. The Cold War was at its absolute height and it ended with the Notting Hill riots - a reminder of the racial tensions that were bubbling up. All these things came together within a few weeks in the summer of 1958, that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by that time and thought it was a great setting for a drama.
We follow Samuel, who finds himself caught up with the Secret Service and involved in the mystery which he has to try to solve. Hannah, his daughter, is desperately trying to find her own identity and having to do this grizzly season. Sacha, the little boy, is sent off to boarding school, which is closely modelled on the boarding school that I went to.
Summer of Rockets centres around a family - modelled closely on my own - that gradually gets caught up in the tensions of the Cold War. The story is fiction, but it has many elements that are true. Sascha, the little boy, is sent off to an austere and frightening boarding school, just as I was. Samuel’s firm, the invention of the pager, the use of deaf workers and, most surreally, being suspected by the Secret Service of bugging Winston Churchill’s hearing aid, that’s all true.
When you make a period drama, you are conscious that you must speak to a modern audience and that there may be resonances. The most important is the fear of Russian penetration, which dominates the story of Summer of Rockets, but also dominates us now. But also the sense of technology exploding… these are all very urgent concerns for us at the moment and they’re all contained in the summer that these characters lived through.
Another challenge that I set myself when writing the story was that I had big set-piece sequences happening - one on The Mall, one inside Buckingham Palace, one in a big stately home with military activity… and when you’re creating these big set-pieces you need an incredibly good, big team around you. We’d all worked together before so that was a great short-hand. We all tried to make it as vivid as possible and not like we’re staring into the past from a height, not like we’re looking into a fishbowl.
When Samuel and his family meet the Shaws, Samuel is entranced by them. Linus Roache’s character Richard is a war hero and a famous man. Keeley Hawes wonderfully plays Kathleen, an aristocratic lady, incredibly poised. With them, we see very early on in the story that there is an underlying pain and that something is very wrong.
Arthur [played by Timothy Spall] is a charming character, but you feel early on that there may be something a little bit worrying about him - he asks very incisive questions. Timothy Spall’s great warmth and individuality as an actor means that you have to work out if he is a good character or a bad character, to put it simply. That is a very powerful tension in the story.
Hannah is incredibly resistant to doing the season. She’s quite a strong-willed character and has an original mind. She’s very interested in things going on around her. Lily’s wonderfully illuminating performance encapsulates all of that."
Summer of Rockets starts on BBC Two on Wednesday 22 May at 9pm. The full series will be available as a box set on BBC iPlayer after episode one.
Source BBC TWO
May 21, 2019 4:31am ET by BBC TWO