Acclaimed writer Jeff Pope has penned Cilla, a three-part drama for ITV, starring Sheridan Smith as the famous Liverpudlian songbird.
Sheridan will be joined in the cast by Aneurin Barnard (The White Queen, Citadel, We’ll Take Manhatten) as Cilla’s husband Bobby, Ed Stoppard (The Politician’s Husband, Silent Witness, Branded) as Brian Epstein, John Henshaw (Downton Abbey, Midsomer Murders, South Riding) as Cilla’s father, John White and Melanie Hill (Waterloo Road, Hebburn, Merlin) is Cilla’s mother, Priscilla, known affectionately to her family as Big Cilla.
‘Cilla’ tells of her rocky rise to fame and will capture the essence of 1960s Liverpool, the atmosphere of promise and excitement as the Merseybeat music scene was on the verge of exploding in a blaze of tight-fitting skirts, stiletto heels, and beehives.
A young, unknown Cilla works in the austere environs of the typists’ pool at a local company, dreaming of stardom. The drama looks at how she met the two men who came to love her and ultimately fought over her - future husband Bobby Willis and legendary manager Brian Epstein, the tragic young businessman who also guided the career of The Beatles.
We learn how Cilla’s burgeoning friendship with John, Paul, George and Ringo - the four young men who went on to conquer the music world - shaped her career. It was family friend Ritchie Starkey (Ringo), the teddy-boy with a greasy quiff, who help her to cross paths with Brian Epstein and producer George Martin - who were to launch her career with recording sessions at the world famous Abbey Road Studios.
The ITV Studios production will recount the dark days of her early career, her on-off relationship with Bobby, a baker at Woolworth’s with the gift of the gab, who struggled to accept Cilla’s iron determination to succeed and become a star at the expense of practically every other area of her life.
We see the young Priscilla White, (her real name), touring Liverpool in Bobby’s Crawford’s biscuits van as she moved from the Cavern to the Zodiac Club, to the Blue Angel Club and the Iron Door Club, chasing a dream. But it was a meeting with shy young entrepreneur Brian Epstein, struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality at a time when to be gay was illegal in Britain, which was to change her life.
Sheridan Smith is delighted to be taking on the role of the young Cilla:
“I am thrilled to be playing Cilla, as she is a British icon. In the 60s, as a young girl from Liverpool, she had numerous number ones and sang with The Beatles, her life story is fascinating,” said Sheridan.
“I'm so excited and can't wait to start filming. Golden Globe and Oscar nominated Jeff Pope has written it and Paul Whittington, who directed Mrs Biggs is directing. Add to that Kwadjo Dajan producing and Lesley Brennan doing the make up and I am working with an absolute dream team. So thrilled to be back at ITV for such an exciting project and to hopefully show a younger audience what a star Cilla has always been and for the older generation they can re-live those swinging 60s! What an era! I can't wait to get up to Liverpool (my favourite city) and start filming. I'm really honoured and just hope I do her story justice,” she added.
ITV’s Director of Drama Steve November and Controller of Drama Victoria Fea have commissioned Cilla.
“Jeff’s scripts offer an extraordinary insight into Cilla’s humble beginnings and meteoric rise to chart success,” said Steve. “He captures Liverpool life back in the 60s through her eyes and it’s fascinating to thinking of her hanging out back stage at the Cavern Club with The Beatles,” said Steve.
Cilla will be produced by Kwadjo Dajan (Mrs Biggs, Appropriate Adult – as Co-Producer, The Widower) and executive produced by Jeff Pope (Lucan, Philomena, Mrs Biggs, Appropriate Adult – as Executive Producer and not writer **) with Paul Whittington (The Widower, Mrs Biggs, Vera, DCI Banks) directing.
Filming of Cilla begins in Liverpool throughout March and April and will take in some of the city’s most famous landmarks including the world famous Cavern Club.
Note to editors:
NB **Neil McKay was the writer of Appropriate Adult. Please ensure you don’t credit Jeff wrongly for this drama.