We had the great pleasure of speaking to the wonderfully talented Rachael New, creator of the upcoming drama Miss Scarlet and The Duke. We talked about her work on the 6 part series, the challenges of writing in a period setting and her plans for the future.
The British screenwriter’s impressive CV consists of a wide variety of drama and comedy series, both in contemporary and historical settings. In 2009 she wrote and co-created comedy drama series Monday Monday (starring Tom Ellis and Miranda Hart) for British channel ITV. She’s well-known for her work on The Mallorca Files (BBC), which also features a male and female detective clashing on how to investigate, and period drama Grantchester (ITV). Miss Scarlet and The Duke is the first time she serves as creator, writer and show runner.
What are you most excited about for fans to discover about Miss Scarlet and The Duke?
There is so much I’m looking forward. The characters have been so much fun to write. My protagonist Eliza Scarlet is a force of nature – an ambitious, independent woman living at a time where women had little or no rights. This creates lots of lovely conflict which you need to create a cracking story. I also think the tone of the series is quite a fresh take on the period genre. It’s a drama but punctuated with lots of comedy. I think this is something that will feel quite new and exciting to watch.
There’s no release date yet but can you maybe roughly hint at when we can expect to see it?
Great news, especially for everyone this side of the pond. Thank you!
How much research went into your work on Miss Scarlet and The Duke?
A lot. I wanted the world to feel as authentic as possible so that Eliza’s struggle could cut through. It wasn’t a chore. I love history, and curling up on my sofa with a pile of books, cup of tea (or g&t) usually with a blanket or a cat on my lap, is my idea of heaven.
That sounds really heavenly indeed! Is Miss Scarlet based on historic events? Was there a real “Miss Scarlet“?
The character of Eliza Scarlet is fiction – there were no female detectives in 19th century London – however the world she inhabits is very much an authentic one. I felt it was important to research as much as possible. The 19th century was very much a male dominated society and at its core the premise of Miss Scarlet and The Duke is a woman in a man’s world trying to stay in the game.
What was your inspiration for Miss Scarlet, as a character and as a series?
We have a female Doctor Who so I wanted to write a female Sherlock Holmes, but unlike Holmes Eliza Scarlet is more human and less super hero. And where Holmes would be celebrated for his brilliance, Eliza has to work a hell of a lot harder for any kind of respect or recognition.
Haha! There is a lot of me in Eliza – her determination, her impatience, her lack of culinary skills – I’d rather be digging in the garden covered in mud than in the kitchen baking. But Kate Phillips (who plays Eliza) has brought so much to the role that now I’m writing season 2 I just think of her. She is sensational.
Can you share anything about the casting process? What were you looking for in the actors portraying Eliza, the Duke, and Rupert?
I was looking for that spark, a connection that the actor has with the script. As soon as I met with Kate (Eliza), Stuart (Duke), Andrew (Rupert), Ansu (Moses) and Cathy (Ivy) I knew immediately that’s who I wanted. Each are very special actors. They’ve brought magic to the screen and I feel extremely lucky to have them on the show.
Standard and inevitable question: how was working with Andrew Gower?
Andrew’s funny, smart, intuitive and just a lovely person to hang out with. Rupert Parker is a complex character and Andrew did a beautiful job of playing those nuances with such subtlety. He manages to make you laugh as well as move you all at the same time. He’s a class act.
We couldn’t agree more!
How old were you when you started writing? Has writing always been a passion for you?
I always loved writing as a kid and a teen but never really thought about making a living out of it. It was later when I had my first baby (who is now almost 18!) that a stranger actually paid me for a piece of writing. I haven’t stopped since.
Do you enjoy writing historical stories or contemporary ones? And why? What are some pros and cons of each genre?
I’m a period drama junkie so that is my preference both to watch as a viewer and to write. There are many cons of writing period – it’s costly and it’s tricky when out on location to cover up the signs of our modern age – satellite dishes, telephone lines, street lights… but it’s worth the hassle. I love diving into a world that isn’t recognisable as my own. To me that’s true escapism and what storytelling is all about.
Miss Scarlet and The Duke was the first time producing your own show. How did that feel?
It was exhausting, stressful, relentless… and I loved every minute of it. Working with director Declan O’Dywer was a real career high for me. I’ve found a friend for life as well as a trusted colleague who I’ll definitely be working with on other projects. I don’t want to big him up too much or he’ll get a big head and it’s already pretty big – that and the fact that someone else might snap him up if they realise just how good he is.
Show Running Miss Scarlet has been incredible but I had an awesome team behind me. Ben Edwards who over the years has often been my writing partner on other shows (and who rather conveniently also happens to be my husband) wrote a couple of the episodes and helped me break the stories. Then there’s my formidable exec producer team headed up by Patty Ishimoto at Element 8. It was a massive team effort.
What’s your next project? Anything you can share?
I’ve got a Tudor thriller that’s an itch I’m going to scratch at some point, but at the moment it’s all Miss Scarlet. I’m in the middle of writing the first two episodes of season 2.
Thank you so very much, Ms New, for taking the time to answer our questions. We are even more excited to see Miss Scarlet and The Duke now and are loving the idea of a second season!
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