Star of ITV’s The Bay opens up about coastal crime.
The next big, British crime drama is The Bay. Based in Morecambe and starring the always-excellent Morven Christie, it’s the tale of a family liaison officer who investigates the case of missing children. We managed to get a hold of an interview with Morven, so here it is…
The Killing Time: Describe The Bay? What is it about?
Morven Christie: The Bay is about an English coastal town that has become a bit neglected as the years have gone by. When you look out from the seafront, it’s this incredibly beautiful vista. You can see the Lake District across the water but when you move back from the sea, you start to see families that are really struggling and the story is set in the centre of that. The main plotline focuses on a family whose twins have gone missing and DS Lisa Armstrong, is an experienced Family Liaison Officer who is assigned to the family.
TKT: What is Lisa’s role within the investigation?
MC: As a Family Liaison Officer Lisa becomes embedded in the family home to be the main conduit between the family and the police. It means that we can go right into the heart of the family and into the emotions that everyone is experiencing in the first few days after the twins go missing. It also means that she can get right into the heart of the family dynamics. Quite often with television crime dramas, the police investigation and what the family are going through are kept quite separate but not in The Bay. The audience is privy to the crime from both perspectives though ultimately through her eyes as a DS. We do however get to see the strong similarities between Lisa’s life and the life of Jess Meredith (Chanel Cresswell) – the mother of the missing teenagers. They’ve both had their kids young and if circumstances had been ever so slightly different their lives could have been the other way around. I think that coming from the perspective of Lisa as an FLO brings the audience into the emotional heart of the story in a different way than we’ve seen on television before.
TKT: When does the audience first meet Lisa in the story?
MC: Lisa is about to embark on a big night out with her girlfriends. She’s a bit of a party girl and has a fun, drunken night with her pals. She then turns up for work the next morning, a little bit worse for wear and is launched into the centre of a new case that’s come in overnight. However, her drunken actions of the night before threaten to get Lisa into a tricky situation at work and we see her trying to cover her tracks as this case progresses. She’s incredibly good at her job, but she’s also just a normal single mum with two teenage kids who likes to have a laugh with her mates. However, those elements crash together at the beginning of the story and she spends the rest of the drama trying to clean that up.
TKT: It sounds like Lisa’s home-life balance takes a bit of strain?
MC: Lisa’s job is incredibly involving. It’s a 24/7 job and she is constantly on call to the family at the heart of the investigation. They can call her any time of the day or night. In any criminal investigation, detectives aren’t ever really off duty. So I think that’s had an effect on Lisa’s home life. She’s become so embroiled in her work and the lives of the Meredith family that she’s taken her eye off the ball with her own kids a little bit. We see her daughter Abbie getting into trouble at school and Lisa having to leave work to deal with that whilst she’s in the middle of a crucial stage in the missing teen investigation. She is aware that she has to get back in touch with her own son and daughter and find out what’s going on in their lives. Lisa lives with her mum Penny (played by Lindsey Coulson) and is her lifeline to her children really. She’s the one looking after the kids while Lisa is working. Penny has an incredible relationship with her family and is very present for them but Lisa’s begun to take her own mother for granted. As the breadwinner of the family, her career is taking precedence over her family and she is becoming increasingly aware of that. We will see her try to fix that.
TKT: What research did you do for this part?
MC: I spent quite a lot of time with some detectives before we started filming; one of whom was an FLO (Family Liaison Officer). When I first met them, they joked between them about the fact that there’s an in-joke in the police that ‘you’re not a real cop until you’ve got at least one divorce under your belt’. They talked about just how much gets sacrificed for the job because it is so full on and it can take over your life. I think Lisa is a brilliant example of that and I think Daragh has written a really honest portrayal of a female police detective who is juggling family life with a senior role that carries a lot of responsibility with it. We’re quite used to seeing male detectives in crime drama and portrayals of them almost as superheroes. But with Lisa we see her in the midst of making a mess of her own life. In reality, she’s just a normal woman in her 30s that’s single and trying to live and work and keep her head above water. I think that’s a much more honest depiction of what working parents go through. Things do end up getting sacrificed when people like Lisa work as hard as they do to keep their family going. Working with the detectives, what I was most interested in was how you play this dynamic where you are primarily an investigator yet have to become close to a family and be their support especially as I learned that in most crimes 90% of the time the answers come from inside the family. Almost everything that will ever help a police investigation comes from inside the family. And most of the time, if there is a perpetrator of a crime, it’s from inside the family circle. So I was fascinated to understand that strange balance of really being a support whilst constantly surveying behaviour and analysing details you are privy too because you are embedded within the family. I wanted to know if the officers felt devious which they didn’t because they were always straightforward with their families from the beginning.
TKT: What would you say motivates Lisa? Is it her family?
MC: Lisa is motivated mostly by her family but work plays a huge part in her life too. The reason why she specialised in family liaison is because she has a natural compassion, inbuilt empathy and she really cares about family life and about people. Ultimately, she loves her career, but the centre of her world is her kids. Life becomes difficult for her when she realises that she’s not been doing very well at her own life and that her family has taken a backseat to her work. I think because she specialises in family liaison and is good at it she automatically assumes that her family situation is fine. But what we see is that she dismisses them quite a lot because her focus is on work. So whilst I think family is at the heart she has a lot of work to do to make up for her lack of input into the lives of her children and that becomes increasingly evident when her own children’s problems begin to surface.
TKT: Describe the other relationships Lisa has in her life?
MC: The most prominent figures in Lisa’s life are her children, her mother Penny and her relationship with Jess Meredith, who is the mother of the missing twins. One of the things that appealed to me most about the script were how the lives of these two women seem to mirror each others in certain ways. Lisa has a strong relationship with her own mother but lately she has begun to take that for granted. It is Penny who is really holding Lisa’s family life together. With regards toJess it’s very easy to put herself in Jess’ shoes; to understand why she’s angry as well as being desperately upset and scared for her children. What are the dynamics of the relationship between Lisa and Sean? Lisa’s relationship with Sean started in a very particular way, but it was a really immediate thing. It was a moment in time. It was disposable. It was never intended to be something that went beyond that one moment. As the story progresses and develops Lisa feels ashamed and embarrassed at what’s happened and it just gets worse as the story deepens. The more Lisa finds out about Sean the more freaked out she becomes at her own lack of judgment. She even begins to lose trust in herself a bit. So a lot of the conflict between Lisa and Sean comes from Lisa not being comfortable with herself and what she’s done Lisa and DI Manning have good shorthand. She is quite lucky to have him as a boss.
TKT: How does she get on with him?
MC: Lisa has known her boss, DI Manning, for a long time. He has been there through the whole journey of her career and they’re like family. He’s got a lot of respect for what she does and her ability to do it, but he will also snap her back should she step out of line. They’ve been doing this together for a long time and have a really amazing working relationship. There’s a lot of trust between them, which is why when that trust is broken Manning is extremely hurt by Lisa’s actions.
TKT: How does she feel about being paired with Med at the outset of a serious investigation?
MC: Lisa gets paired up with Med at the beginning of this particular case and he’s new as a family liaison officer who’s never actually been assigned to a family before. I think Lisa, on day one of this investigation, doesn’t want to be dragging a newbie along with her. She’s had a heavy night and has a hangover. She just wants to get on with their job. As the story unfolds, she becomes even less comfortable with Med’s presence because she doesn’t want to be found out. Her connection with this case becomes quite difficult. And I think probably had she not had this quite green, wet behind the ears newbie with her, she might have actually said to Manning, look, I’ve got a situation here. I think she tries really hard through a lot of the story to really keep Med at arm’s length. It’s interesting how dismissive she is with him in comparison to how warm she is to other people. And that’s because he’s right there in the centre of this case that has this personal situation for her all messed up in it and she’s really trying to make him go away. But at the same time, he does show some talent for the job. He makes some huge mistakes, but he also does really well in other situations. She has quite a lot of admiration for that. She is able to look at Med towards the end of the story and think, you’re going to do well at this. And as a FLO, has a natural capacity for, particularly with Sue, Nick’s mom, this natural capacity for dealing with people and making them trust him and that’s exactly what the job needs.
TKT: This feels like a very new take on a crime drama – what’s different about it?
MC: I don’t feel like we’ve seen this particular female lead role before in a television drama. I think a lot of the time with crime dramas, it’s all about the audience trying to figure out who did it and there is a place for that of course. However I think it’s quite a unique angle to take into the heart of this family’s feelings and to actually see the investigator be directly affected by what that family are going through. I don’t think we’ve seen it before.
The Bay: Wednesday 20th March, 9pm, ITV