This Town creator speaks out as 'authentic' Midlands show hits the screens

This Town is now available to watch on BBCIPlayer

Peaky Blinders' Steven Knight's new six-part drama This Town hit the screens yesterday (March 31) on BBC One which has music and the Midlands at its heart. Steven made it vital for all the key elements to feel 'authentic' for the show.

This Town follows a group of young people trying to find their path in life who are drawn into an eccentric and iconic music scene in early 80's Coventry and Birmingham. They combine their talents to form a band and break into the region's thrilling music era.

The show is set in 1981 Birmingham against a backdrop of simmering social tension, political unrest, and threats of violence, with tricky family dynamics tying it all together. The show features Django actor Nicholas Pinnock, Downton Abbey actress Michelle Dockery, Coventry's very own Jordan Bolger, and rising stars Levi Brown and Ben Rose.

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Some filming took place at Knight's new Digbeth Loc. Film and TV Studios, the majority of the series was filmed on location in and around Birmingham and Coventry such as Coventry Cathedral and Riley Square in Bell Green.

Steven Knight and series director Paul Whittington were eager to capture the spirit and energy of the Midlands, including filming at two council estates that play an important part in the story.

Steven told PA news agency: "Paul's done such a brilliant job. It's brilliant, it's glamourous, it's dramatic. The idea is that the housing blocks and the council estates look beautiful," acknowledging estates can sometimes be portrayed negatively.

Talking about getting in with the locals, Paul added: "They were very welcoming to us. I mean, if you say you’re working with the guy who made Peaky Blinders, a lot of doors open. So that was a definite advantage."

This Town is a love letter to Birmingham and Coventry, with the series having personal roots for Steven.

"This was the era I grew up around, I experienced similar places. When you look back, there was a period in Coventry and Birmingham when a certain sort of music appeared, that people who were opposite in terms of race, they weren’t opposite, they were only opposite in terms of race, but suddenly everybody came together.

"So you go to a Birmingham football match, and after the match, you go to the pubs and you turn up the record player and plug in this music, and everybody was just united. It wasn’t deliberate or forced, it just happened. And I thought it would be interesting to tell a story set then," he added.

Music is often about finding hope, identity, and escape, Knight agreed but he wanted this idea to happen organically in the plot.

He explained: Music appeals to a certain part of the psyche that isn’t rational or reasonable. That’s what I’m trying to do, the idea that they [the characters] are not seeking it out, they’re not trying to find it – this thing is finding them. It’s giving them something that’s different."

However, there are themes in This Town that viewers can relate to wherever they're from in the world.

Director Paul says: "I think it’s really interesting because it’s a very personal piece for Steve, but it feels very personal to me too. And, the more personal you make something in the writing of it, the more universal it becomes.

"All the themes of being at that age, of being a teenager and that search for identity. Who am I, who’s my tribe? and expressing that through the music you listen to and the clothes that you wear, that’s something we could all relate to."

At the heart of the show is the main character Dante, played by Levi Brown, a teenage poet and 'good kid' at odds with the social tensions and chaos unfolding around him, who finds himself drawn to the rush and promise of life in a band.

"It was an interesting character to play. It’s the fact he can go from being in front of a gangster, the most dangerous gangster in Birmingham allegedly, and then just go and see the girl he fancies. And just completely switch from moment to moment."

And while it might now be four decades on from the 1980s, when it comes to the wider political context and social moods of the time, does Knight think there are parallels with what’s happening in the world right now?

"Absolutely. It’s weird writing stuff – sometimes you write it before it’s topical, which is strange, it becomes topical. With this, I think the fracture and disruption of society, the pessimism, all of those bleak things that we’ve got at the moment, were there then,” Knight reflects.

“My intention with This Town was to take all of that bleakness, and then find out that it’s OK – that people will make it OK if you leave them alone. That’s what this is about. It’s about people who are in very, very difficult circumstances, not through any fault of their own. And we all know what things are like at the moment, it’s not great. But hopefully, people will watch this and think, well, at least you can have a laugh and a song."

All episodes of This Town are available to view on BBC IPlayer.

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