Tony Martin, the farmer who shot burglar, inspires verbatim TV drama

Farmer Tony Martin sparked a national debate in 1999 when he shot dead a teenager who was burgling his Norfolk home.

To some, he was a vulnerable householder with a right to protect both himself and his property. To others, he was a dangerous vigilante who wanted to kill and maim.

Martin, now 74, was released from prison in 2003 after his murder conviction was downgraded to manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility.

Fifteen years on, his story is still divisive and is being retold in a Channel 4 drama using police interviews that were conducted in the days following his arrest.

Writer-director Dave Nath says he was drawn to recreating Martin’s interrogation because the transcripts “give a sense of the biography of the man as well as the crime”.

Every word in the piece is taken verbatim from the interviews or from police statements made by people relevant to the case.

“It’s quite risky because you’re effectively putting a play on the telly,” continues Nath, whose other credits include The Murder Detectives and I’m Running Sainsbury’s.

“It was about looking for the right case. Channel 4 wanted something iconic, where there was something bigger at stake than the crime itself.”

Steve Pemberton, who plays Tony Martin in the hour-long drama, says he was “thrilled to be asked to be involved in something completely out of my comfort zone”.

“Because it was verbatim you couldn’t go off script or paraphrase,” continues the League of Gentlemen and Inside No 9 star. “It was important to learn the words and say them word for word.”

Martin, says Pemberton, has “unusual turns of phrase” that made recreating his statements “a great challenge” for an actor.

“It’s not dialogue the way any of us would write it,” he goes on. “It meant a lot of time sitting with the script, and hours and hours of getting the shape of the sentences exactly right.”

Daniel Mays is no stranger to police interrogation scenes, having appeared as a sergeant suspected of an unlawful shooting in the BBC’s Line of Duty.

The actor, who plays one of the two policemen interviewing Martin, praises Jed Mercurio’s drama for fostering “an appetite for longer takes and longer attention spans.”

“I’ve obviously been involved in interrogation scenes before but this offered a completely different challenge,” he says of his role as DC Stuart Peters.

“It’s an iconic story, and I liked the idea of setting it in one room. Most of all it was a pure actors’ piece: you can really see all the nuances and power shifts in the performances.”

Martin himself is seen at the end of The Interrogation returning to Bleak House, the Norfolk farmhouse where 16-year-old Fred Barras was killed and another man, Brendan Fearon, was wounded.

His unrepentant demeanour and refusal to show any remorse for his actions is sure to reignite interest in the case and larger questions regarding self-defence and reasonable force.

“I think Tony is quite robust in terms of the media now, but obviously he’s prepared for the renewed interest,” says Nath.

“Tony believes he did the right thing, so I think there was a willingness to engage in this process.”

Pemberton worked with a dialect coach to help him perfect Martin’s accent but decided against meeting the man in person.

“Dave made it clear he wasn’t after an impersonation or facsimile, so I didn’t think it was necessary to meet up with him,” he explains.

Mays, meanwhile, has nothing but praise for the way Pemberton – hitherto best known for his comic roles – took to the very serious task at hand.

“It was an absolute privilege to sit across from his performance,” says the star of such films as Swimming with Men and Vera Drake. “He’s absolutely hit it for six.”

The Interrogation will be shown on Channel 4 on 18 November.

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