Walters to play Mowlam in new Channel 4 drama

Julie Walters is to play former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam in a new one-off drama for Channel 4.

Called Mo, the drama is being written by Neil McKay, whose credits include See No Evil: The Moors Murders for ITV.

As revealed by The Stage in November 2007, the drama will see McKay reunited with the production team behind See No Evil: The Moors Murders, with Jeff Pope executive producing and Lisa Gilchrist producing.

Channel 4 said the drama was based on “extensive research”, including interviews with Mowlam’s family, colleagues and key players in the Northern Ireland peace process, such as Martin McGuinness.

The broadcaster added that the drama would “depict both the politician and the woman behind the public persona”.

Liza Marshall, head of drama at Channel 4, said: “Mo Mowlam is one of the most inspiring figures of our recent political past and I can’t think of an actress who could more powerfully capture her energy, wit and ultimately the tragedy of her situation than Julie Walters.”

Marshall told The Stage Walters had been in mind for the part “very early on” and added: “It’s a brilliant part and she will play it incredibly well. I think it will be quite a challenge for her, because she will have to be Mo Mowlam and she is so well known for being Julie Walters, but we have a fantastic director called Philip Martin – who has directed Helen Mirren – and I think he will do a fantastic job with her.”

She added: “Mo was such an amazing figure and was quite outrageous in some of the things she did, so I think that the comic element of Julie’s acting ability will serve her really well.”

Mo, which will be screened early next year, was unveiled today at the launch of Channel 4’s line-up for the spring and summer.

Dramas that will form part of the spring and summer season include Endgame, a feature-length political drama starring William Hurt, and The Unloved, a single drama about a young girl growing up in a children’s home, which is being directed by actress Samantha Morton.

The Unloved will mark Morton’s directorial debut and will form part of a season called Britain’s Forgotten Children, which aims to raise awareness of the issues facing children in care.

Speaking today at the launch, Channel 4 head of programmes Julian Bellamy admitted that Channel 4 would like to commission more drama, but said the broadcaster could not currently afford it.

“Would we like to commission more drama? Absolutely. Can we? No, because we have not got the money to do so. That is partly driven by the fact drama is a much more expensive genre. But we do our absolute best with what we have got to make sure our drama punches above its weight. It is worth remembering we have a fraction of what the BBC and ITV have in drama, but look what we do with it.”

He added: “The combination of the global recession and Channel 4’s funding gap means finding the investment to commission enough distinctive public service programming has never been more challenging. But I would argue that we do a remarkable job with what we have got.”

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