A graduate of the BBC Writersroom, Dominic Mitchell’s first commission for television In The Flesh has just started its run on BBC Three. We asked him about the zombie fiction that inspired him and the issues he wanted to explore through his undead muse Kieran Walker…
What made you want to write about zombies and which films in that genre do you love?
Well they haven’t asked for this. It’s not like vampires when they’ve got options, like eating rats. I’m talking like it’s real. Zombies come back in this brain-damaged state and they’re just trying to survive.
I’m a massive George Romero fan so Night Of The Living Dead was an inspiration and I was surprised by the remake of Dawn Of The Dead. I do like 28 Days Later, but those are not technically zombies. They’re infected. Zombies are scarier when they are unstoppable machines.
There’s a movie called Dead Of Night that I saw as a kid. It was about this woman’s son who gets killed in Vietnam, she prays for him to come back and the next day he appears but he’s different and animals and people go missing. Colin was great because it followed things from the zombie’s perspective, which I thought was quite original. And I really love Pet Semetary, but again it’s not strictly a zombie movie.
In The Flesh stars a mix of established actors and newcomers, was it hard casting these roles?
We knew we wanted unknowns and we’ve been really lucky with Luke [Newberry], David [Walmsley] and Harriet [Cains]. Luke is such an amazing actor, he reads lines exactly as I imagined them and that’s so rare. It was really hard casting Kieran because he’s the lynchpin. He has to be soulful without making speeches every five minutes about how he feels. It’s weird seeing it all come together and having Ricky Tomlinson read your lines.
And of course, Kenneth Cranham as Vicar Oddie. What can you tell us about his back-story?
Kenneth is great, and my thinking for his character was that he was born on some desolate Scottish island and was obsessed with the Book of Revelations. He’d been to America in his youth and studied in the Bible Belt so he’s not your average Church of England preacher.
I always imagined Steve Evet’s character Bill wanted to be a military man, but he failed the medical somehow. The rising gives him a chance he wouldn’t otherwise have had. The Government didn’t act and he stepped up and said ‘No, we’re going to defend the town against these rotters.’ The Human Volunteer Force (HVF) that defends the town is his baby.
Bill refers to ‘the lying bastard Government’. Did you want to say something about a breakdown in trust towards authority?
There are parallels, if you look at the financial crisis – the Government took the side of the banks over the people and after the Iraq war. People said they didn’t want it and the Government went ahead anyway. It’s more prevalent in America but certainly in rural areas people don’t trust Westminster. That’s sort of what I was looking at with Roarton. They’re like the Wild West.
Vicar Oddie is quite a powerful figure in the village. Do you think people would turn to religion in the event of a zombie rising?
There haven’t been definitive answers about why the rising happened and where there are no answers there’s a vacuum and everything becomes speculation. If this happened I think people would want sins to be wiped away. If something can’t be explained by science, religion fills that hole.
Oddie believes that these people are the personification of the four horseman of the apocalypse, that they are imposters pretending to be your friends and neighbours. On the other hand, there’s a group hinted at in the show called the Undead Liberation Army, which follows a man called The Prophet. He believes that PDS [Partially Deceased Syndrome] sufferers are angels and that the first zombie was actually Jesus Christ.
Kieran took his own life before he came back as a zombie. What was that like to write?
It’s a very unique experience to write about. This wasn’t a cry for help, he succeeded and I wanted to talk about that in an honest and truthful way, but in a sci-fi context. He obviously never went to his parents, he didn’t want to upset them or deal with that elephant in the room. That’s addressed over the three episodes: people do come out of their shells and deal with how they feel. In most dramas if someone commits suicide that’s it but in a zombie drama you can come back and say everything you couldn’t before. It’s the ultimate second chance and I wanted to explore what happens in a family who has been through that.
Kieran has a close friendship with Amy (introduced in episode two) and an almost romantic one with his friend Ric. Was that ambiguity intentional?
That was totally intentional. He’s not gay but he’s not straight. He’s more in love with the person than the gender. Ric is very uncomfortable with his relationship with Kieran. I don’t think it got to the point of having sex but it was maybe going that way and he couldn’t handle it. What’s so great about horror and fantasy is that you can talk about gender politics and identity freely.
In the Flesh is really story of identity. How do you fit in when you’re completely different and people are labelling you? The Goverment has labelled him a PDS sufferer; the HVF have labelled him as rotter and his family don’t know what he is. He goes through hell.
What about a second series?
I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but there is so much left to talk about. We’ve just touched on the resistance movement and there’s the medication. This drug keeping the PDS sufferers stable has been rushed into production so we don’t know all the side effects. It could just stop working.
Plus there’s how they fit into society now. Are they going to be made to go to work? They would make great workers because you don’t have to pay them, and the powers that be could say they have to pay back their debt to society.
In The Flesh airs on BBC Three, Sunday at 10pm