Written by Shona Smith on Jun 24, 2020. Posted in On Location

Michaela Coel pays homage to London in new series I May Destroy You

I May Destroy You is the latest hit drama to air on the BBC. Writer, co-director and executive producer Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum, Black Earth Rising) says that London is both the teller of the story, and the essence of the story itself that revolves around a young woman who must rebuild her life after her drink is spiked.

Arabella, played by Coel is a Londoner, “a lover of life and a lover of Twitter” says Coel. “After a spontaneous piece of writing of hers goes viral on the internet she receives a commission to write a book. She’s now got an agent, and there’s a sudden professional demand for her writing. Beyond her work she lives in a two-bed flat-share in Hackney and has a cool group of friends, also trying to find themselves within this little concrete jungle. The series is about the personal identity we create in order to understand ourselves as beings in this world, how traumatic events may warp, contort and throw that sense of self into questioning. London does not inform how I tell the story, London is both the teller of the story, and the essence of the story itself. A melting pot, with different cultures, ideas, huge economic disparity, all squished together in a city starving of trees. Without this setting being at both the core of my writing and my life, this story does not exist as it is”.

In terms of filming locations, co-director and executive producer Sam Miller (Luther, Fortitude) says “We worked with Paul Cross, the same designer I had worked with across several seasons of Luther. We both share a love of London and how to film it, especially the corridor of North London that runs down from Hackney through Shoreditch to the Square Mile, it's ever evolving and shifting”. “We were strict in choosing locations that made logical geographical sense for our characters and keeping true to their worlds. If a sequence was drifting or we were struggling to nail a particular moment I would ask Michaela, what were you seeing? Or, is this how you imagined it? She was always able to step away from delivering her ferocious all-encompassing performance to discuss. Thus we were very precise in how the work was shaped and delivered”.

There is a subplot set in Bari, Italy which filmed in the country. There were twelve weeks for pre-production. Phil Clarke and Roberto Troni, Executive Producers of I May Destroy You and managing directors of Various Artists Ltd. “However much time you have when you are producing a show, it never feels like enough! Some of the material was very demanding to film, and as per all shoots it’s a race against time to get everything in the can. Filming in Italy was challenging. And finishing production during a pandemic isn’t easy”.

The series, BBC and HBO co-production has resonated with audiences as it confronts difficult issues around consent, personal responsibility, the difficulties of negotiating your public identity on social media and deciding who you are in real life all set against the backdrop of modern London.

Image credits: Various Artists Ltd and FALKNA - Photographers Natalie Seery/Laura Radford

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