As BBC One drama Ridley Road came to a thrilling conclusion, we discover how Manchester was transformed into the backdrop of 1960s far right fascism, with the show’s Mancunian Jewish executive producer, Nicola Shindler.
Born and bred Mancunian producer Nicola Shindler is behind smash-hit drama including BBC One’s Happy Valley and Netflix’s The Stranger. The high-flying Jewish TV exec began her career as a sales manager at the Royal Court Theatre, before taking the leap into reading theatrical scripts for the company. As she developed a taste for television, Shindler cut her teeth as a script editor for the BBC, before moving to Granada Television. It was here she rose to prominence on the drama series Cracker featuring Christopher Eccleston, who subsequently featured in several dramas for Shindler’s Red Production Company which she formed in 1998, named after her favourite football team, Manchester United. After 21 years at the company, she joined forces with ITV Studios, launching Quay Street Productions earlier this year.
Hi Nicola, tell us about Ridley Road!
Ridley Road is a story of a young Jewish woman from Manchester who follows her lover to London only to find him undercover as an anti-fascist fighter within the NSM fascist movement in 1962. It’s about her journey from a very apolitical, slightly self-obsessed young women, to someone who realises the fight is bigger than her, and gets involved in that movement.
Why do you think it is an important story to tell at this time?
It’s a hugely important story because the idea of people becoming actively involved in something they believe in, the idea of the fear of the rise of fascism and the rise of extreme right-wing politics is absolutely as prevalent today as it was in the 60s. To tell a really entertaining story which addresses those issues is something that I felt it was really important to do. Why now is because the world is in turmoil again and there are numerous organisations exploiting people’s poverty, misunderstandings or using all kinds of double-speak to get people into organisations which then take away people’s freedom and attack people on racial grounds. That’s what’s happening now and that’s what was happening then, so it felt like a brilliant way to point out the dangers of this but by telling a really entertaining period story as well.
What do you think Manchester brings to the show, and why did you choose to film there?
We filmed in Manchester because we’re a Manchester-based production company and we know how to get the most out of every location and know how to not spend money on unnecessary things. I do think that if you’re doing something period, when we found our Ridley Road that looked so similar, we were confident we’d be able to match London in the 60s. It means we can use crews that we know are just that little bit nimbler and more aware of how we can get most money on screen.
Interestingly, Manchester can be adapted to look like almost anything, I’ve found over the years. But there are really great bits of core architecture that we’ve used to portray London and we used some CGI as well. We’ve gone to places in the north-west that have some kind of architecture similar to London. For example, we travelled to Liverpool to do the scenes of the riot in Trafalgar Square. We used real footage and intercut it perfectly with this footage of Liverpool and the CGI.
And the toughest challenge bringing this story to life?
I think the scale of what we needed to do was really big and the period element of turning Manchester into London is always difficult. What has been great though is that we’ve had a really strong script at the centre and writer Sarah Solemani’s idea for the story has always been so clear that we’ve been able to make those decisions and overcome any difficulties.
What are you most proud of with the production?
I think the cast is extraordinary, to find Agnes O’Casey and realise how great she was, to see her bloom, as the character gets more confident, so did she. She’s extraordinary at the centre of this and I’m really proud to have a female action hero in the centre of a period piece. I don’t think it’s something you see very often on television. Then on the other side to have someone like Rory Kinnear who is an extraordinary actor and has proved it time and time again. To watch the two of them play off each other has been fantastic.
What are you hoping audiences will take away from the show?
Primarily they should be really entertained by a great story. It should be a thriller for them, a love story and tick all of the boxes as to why you need to come back and watch next week. It has to be a great story. Underneath that I hope we’re trying to say something important, and that people need to be aware of what they’re being told, what they’re reading and who they are listening to. That message is there but ultimately it has to be a really great piece of drama.
Ridley Road is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now