Andy Woodward and the Floodlights team explain how they told his story

The former professional footballer's brave revelations about the sexual abuse he suffered as a youth player sent shockwaves throughout the industry and across the globe



Introduction by Matt Greenhalgh (writer)

When Bury FC beat my team Manchester City 0-1 in 1998 at Maine Road, I was there. Andy Woodward played that day, not for us, and was outstanding. Little did I know 20 years later I would be sitting down with Colin Barr and Sue Horth - two brilliant producers - discussing how we could turn his life into a BBC drama.

When Andy’s brutal story broke (via Danny Taylor in The Guardian in 2016) I was stunned not only by his courage but also by how this could happen in our national sport. Revealing himself as a sexual abuse victim was a pivotal moment not only for football… but also for many, many men…. including myself. Andy’s story deserves telling, so that it can keep on telling and informing.

Interview with Nick Rowland (Director)

How did you become involved in this project?

The script was sent to me by my agent. I saw that Matt Greenhalgh had written it and that was exciting because he wrote Control, which is one of my favourite films. I didn’t really know that much about Andy’s story before I received it, I’d heard the news reports and was aware of him but not in any great detail, so I came to it without a huge amount of context. And then basically I was just blown away, I cried three or four times reading the script. It really affected me; I hadn’t ever had a script have an impact on me like that before.

This is the first real life story you’ve worked on, does that add any pressure?

It adds a lot of pressure and a real sense of responsibility. I saw my job as understanding and learning what Andy went through, what his experience felt like, and trying to just communicate that as best as possible. I obviously wasn't there and can only do my best to do to that, which is why it was so important that Andy and I did build that trust and rapport with each other. That was the only way I was able to make it, if we hadn’t had that, the whole process would have been impossible.

The film is set across three different times, how was that to direct?

Yes, it takes place in the 80s, the 90s and 2016. It was really challenging because it was also a very short shoot, so doing any kind of time period adds a lot of pressure. But that's really where having a great crew, and a great set of Heads of Department, really was vital. A lot of it was born from a lot of research and looking at reference images. Andy brought in a lot of his photos, and we included as much detail as we could in the film. Even down to the trophies in Andy's bedroom in the film, those are his real trophies from when he was a boy. We tried to make everything as authentic and true to the real thing as possible.

Were there any other challenges filming it?

I think the hardest thing really was the nature of the story, it was tough. We were trying to tell the story in a very honest and true way and that’s hard, especially for the actors to do the emotional painful scenes and go into a very vulnerable place. It was only possible because everyone, all the cast all the crew, was there for the right reasons. It’s by far the most supportive atmosphere I've ever experienced on a film set. There was a day where there was a scene that emotionally affected me quite a lot, and I just had to stop for an hour, we had to stop filming. And I just remember all the cast coming over, we all hugged each other, and were there for each other. So, it was an intense, but beautiful experience. Knowing what we were doing was important and vital is what pushed us through the days where it was tough.

How was it working with the different actors?

Everyone was brilliant and everyone worked so incredibly hard on it. For Gerard to do such an emotional performance, and such a nuanced one with so much depth, day in day out relentlessly, must have been so exhausting for him as an actor. And it was a privilege to see how committed he was to telling the story.

And then with Jonas, we'd worked together on Ripper Street a few years ago. Because of the nature of his role, it was so important that we had a huge amount of trust. And with Morven and Steve as well. We all worked hard to create an environment where, because we were aware of how tough some of these scenes were, we created a space where it was okay for us to be vulnerable around each other. I just don't think there's a way of doing a film like this in any other way.

And with Max Fletcher, who played such a hugely complex role at a young age, he's just, honestly one of the most professional, hard-working actors. He was so focused and dedicated and just a total pro. I can't wait to see what he goes on to next.

Did you have any memorable moments from filming?

By far the most memorable thing for me was when Andy came to set. It was incredibly emotional and moving. Suddenly it didn't matter that we were exhausted, suddenly we all had this energy again, because that's why most of us do what we do. The experience of doing this really reminded me of why I wanted to get into filmmaking.

What would you like audiences to take away from Floodlights?

I want people to have an emotional understanding of what it means to be the victim of abuse. I want people to walk away with a greater empathy for people who've been through experiences like this. And I also hope that people will have more of an insight into how abusers operate, how they manage to do the things that they do. If the film can help stop this happening again to even just one person, but hopefully many more than that, that’s what our mission was when we set out to make it.

Interview with Colin Barr (Executive Producer for Expectation)

How did this project come about?

It was about four years ago, not long after Andy's story had broken in the press. I had my own connections to football in the mid-80s so had a deep affinity with the story. I had been bowled over by the courage Andy had shown when he spoke out and wanted to meet him and hear first-hand from him what he had gone through. So, we met up and we talked and talked about his story and I felt that there was a powerful film to be made. Drama can take an audience back to a moment in time and I felt, as I listened to Andy, that was really what his story needed.

Why do you think drama was the right medium for this story?

Drama is the perfect medium for the story. Mainly because drama can take an audience back to a moment in time and make them understand emotionally what was going on. Andy's experience as a child is nearly 40 years old, and with a story that is from the past like that, the only way you can really bring it to life is through drama. It can take you right back to that moment when he was a teenager, and it can also take you into the heart of a family to see the way that unfolds.

What were you looking for in terms of when you came to casting Andy and Barry Bennell?

One of the biggest challenges that we faced was casting Andy. It was important that we found someone able to communicate the emotional vulnerability of Andy in a world that is hyper masculine. We needed someone who was convincing as a footballer but also not afraid of revealing weakness or fear. We managed to find all those qualities in Gerard, he's an actor of real empathy, humanity, sensitivity as well as a decent footballer. When he and Andy met there was a really strong connection between the two of them.

Casting Barry Bennell was a very different challenge. We needed to cast someone who had the force of presence and believability as a football coach but also could play the more predatory, dark side. We were so lucky to have Jonas because he was able to embody the charisma and still suggest the dark side, and do all of that without ever trying to make everything about him.

And then there’s Max, who plays Young Andy. To find an actor of that age who was able to perform this role like he did is astonishing. Sometimes he seemed like the most mature person in the room.

What would you like audiences to take away from Floodlights?

If there's one thing that I hope an audience would take away from Floodlights it’s the need to talk about these issues and be open about these issues. The name of the film is Floodlights because the only way to try and prevent these things in the future is to shine a light on what happened in the past. And if there's anything that this film should do, it's shine a light on something that often we are very reluctant to look at and talk about. And we need to both look at it and talk about it, however uncomfortable that is. I think the film is the first step towards that.

We wanted to make sure people were left with no doubt that he was a predator who cynically exploited these boys and their families. And we wanted to make sure that for any survivor that, when they watch the film, they'll feel like it's done justice to the subject.


Floodlights airs on Tuesday May 17 2022 at 9pm on BBC Two.

Source BBC TWO

May 16, 2022 7:07am ET by BBC TWO  


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