Eternal Law is a new series from ITV which sees angels taking on the role of practising lawyers in the historic city of York in Northern England. York Minster – one of the most striking Churches in Europe – has always provided temptation for camera crews, but for the first time will play host to a full series portraying the activities of God, his angels and the Devil.
Dealing with such classical characters in a modern context provided serious challenges of stereotype and triteness that writer and executive producer Matthew Graham was all too happy to engage with:
“We agreed that a serious, portentous take on guardian angels would draw unfavourable comparisons to Wim Wenders’ masterpiece “WINGS OF DESIRE”. We wanted something that tried to emulate the wit and cheek of the Powell and Pressburger picture. That showed us angels not as luminous, pious beings, disconnected from Human life but as fallible strangers in a strange land. Baffled by this troubled world yet embracing its treats – the food, the drink, the crackling hearth. Struggling with big decisions and challenged by unwanted emotions. In other words, we wanted them to be more like Us.”
Playing the angels also brought its own challenges, including wearing wings and adopting the visage of an eternal being sent to influence destiny. The non-religious Samuel West decided to approach the role as that of playing an alien race:
“I’m an atheist and I don’t mind who knows it. I think of it more in terms as a different species – I’m a very keen bird watcher and when I meet a new species of bird I look at it and think, ‘your behaviour is a bit like another species I know well but it’s not it’s your own’. So playing an angel – even one in human form – I’m really tapping into something which is quite alien.”
West plays Zak Gist, the veteran agent of Mr Mountjoy – otherwise known as God. His mission is to comfort, reason with and inspire humans to good deeds. However, his history means that much more is at stake as his enters the courtroom. A beautiful lawyer named Hannah could be the Achilles heel that threatens the existence of the world.
York provided an attractive work environment for the cast during filming, with Orla Brady, who plays the admonishing Mrs Sheringham, waxing lyrical over the shops and architecture:
“I loved being in York. I lived in a sweet little cottage behind York Minster and cycled to work in the mornings listening to the wonderful bells ringing out. It truly felt like stepping back in time. I shopped at the outdoor markets, cycled out along the river on days off, lit a fire in the evenings and sat down to read. Plus there are cake shops. Oh the cakes shops! The original being Betty’s, which again is a welcome step back to a time when no-one asks you to queue up for an overpriced coffee in a paper cup. Rather they elegantly sit you down, welcome you….and that’s before we even talk about the cream cakes.”
As explained by Tobias Menzies, Eternal Law is “an unusual beast” mixing the divine and the domestic in a very English setting. Questions of love, life and death crash head on with day-to-day concerns, gritty cases and a back story of angels who have lived for thousands of years. Against the strange mix of settings, there was a great deal of fun to be had:
“They say the devil has the best songs, and he certainly had the best lines. Playing an evil character is fun, you get to say and do things that are tricky to get away with in real life.”
Eternal Law does a thoroughly professional job of introducing an unusual and stimulating take on legal drama. Unashamedly influenced by Boston Legal, the unique setting of York Minster promises to make the series a big hit with American audiences. With tongue firmly in cheek, Eternal Law provides a truly refreshing dramatic format.
Eternal Law will air on Thursdays at 9pm on ITV from 5th January 2012 for UK audiences only.
Zak Gist played by Samuel West (Van Helsing, Iris, Any Human Heart)
Tom played by Ukweli Roach (Streetdance 3D, Romeo and Juliet)
Mrs Sheringham played by Orla Brady (Fringe, Mistresses)
Richard played by Tobias Menzies (Rome, Neverland, Casino Royale, Atonement)
Hannah played by Hattie Morahan (Sense and Sensibility, The Golden Compass, Lark Rise to Candleford)
Executive Producers: Jane Featherston & Alison Jackson
Creators, Executive Producers & Writers: Ashley Pharoah & Matthew Graham
Producer: Georgina Lowe
Director (eps 1, 2, 5 & 6): Adrian Shergold
Director (eps 3 & 4): Jamie Payne