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The Screenwriter: Douglas Livingstone

The cocooned world of the Cazalets was familiar territory for screenwriter Douglas Livingstone. "During the war I grew up in a household very much like this. My mother was a cook for a land-owning family in Hampshire," he explains. "We had our own quarters, it was very much the upstairs, downstairs existence. The only time I ever went into the drawing room upstairs was at Christmas to collect a small present from the family." As a six-year-old his memories of the war were dominated by the American base nearby. "They used to invite us kids on to the camp where we would get treats like chewing gum, things we'd never heard of before."

Livingstone's task was to condense the first two books in Elizabeth Jane Howard's original quartet of books into six episodes of television. Given the depth and scope of Howard's writing, however, he found the challenge a pleasure. "It is very rich in character, which always attracts me," he says. "The books are also about a major turning point in British history. It is not a story about the great events of the time but what these great events do to individuals. Things will not and cannot be the same again." Livingstone's other BBC screenwriting credits include The Day of the Triffids, Boys From the Bush, The Impossible Spy and Esther Waters. He also used to be an actor and starred in Alan Bennett's The Fishing Party.

Director Suri Krishnamma was immediately drawn to Livingstone's scripts. "It is a great family drama. It has got a fascinating cast of characters," explains the director of the acclaimed BBC historical drama, A Respectable Trade. "What I like about it is that it involves very different characters and a set of storylines that become increasingly complicated with births, marriages and deaths against the backdrop of World War II," he adds. Krishnamma's greatest challenge was casting. He spent two months testing hundreds of actors. "I decided early on that 90 per cent of my energy was going to go into casting. I must have seen about five or more people for each of the 50 main adult characters and ten or 20 for the children's roles. So it was hundreds," he says. The task of sifting through potential performers was made all the more difficult by the need for a tangible, familial atmosphere within the cast. "We had about 60 characters all of which have their own moments and storylines. I was very aware that if one of those characters didn't fit then it would be like a house of cards, it would all collapse," says Krishnamma. "They had to fit, you had to believe that these people were brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters and so on."


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