Cocaine, comedy and violence: welcome to The Boat Story

It began like any other morning. Samuel and Janet are both walking dogs on a bleak, windswept beach in Yorkshire. The sky is overcast, the wind biting. They exchange some routine pleasantries. But when Samuel’s white Pomeranian runs over, barking, with a beard soaked in blood, both their lives are irrevocably tipped upside down.
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The strangers discover a fishing trawler washed up on the beach, and with it, two dead bodies and a haul of cocaine. Their spur-of-the-moment decision to snatch the illicit cargo entangles them in a web of deceit, mafia retribution and murder. One they may not escape alive.

BBC One’s six-part darkly comic thriller, The Boat Story, treads the tightrope between violence and humour, relatability and absurdity. It is the directorial debut of brothers, screenwriters and producers Harry and Jack Williams, the duo behind The Missing and its spin-off Baptiste.

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The Williams brothers have called it a “primal story”. It continually circles back to the dilemma at its core: Do you take the cocaine or leave it? Where does that decision sit on the morality scale? And what factors tip the balance?

Paterson Joseph as Samuel and Daisy Haggard as Janet in The Boat StoryPaterson Joseph as Samuel and Daisy Haggard as Janet in The Boat Story
Paterson Joseph as Samuel and Daisy Haggard as Janet in The Boat Story

Paterson Joseph and Daisy Haggard take the lead as Samuel and Janet, respectively. The stellar lineup also includes The Thick of It’s Joanna Scanlan, Baptiste’s Tcheky Karyo – as sinister mafia boss, The Tailor – and Rise of the Footsoldier’s Craig Fairbrass. Most of the cast have worked with the Williams brothers before. All are glowing about their abilities.

“So many episodes just took me completely by surprise,” says Joseph, 59, known for Peep Show and Noughts + Crosses. He’d receive an episode and think “oh god”.

“It’s really exciting to open a script and feel like even I don’t understand what’s about to happen.

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"There’s also just surprises that are designed to f*** you up. So their scripts are really just marvellous – to work on something that feels like you’re being surprised by yourself.”

For Scanlon, it is that they never stop working on the story – it is “constantly changing, in flux, from their point of view, during the shoot and in the edit as well”.

“Their laser focus on creating as many twists and turns for an audience is quite unusual,” the 62-year-old continues.

“I’ve never worked with writers who are so prepared to be creative, really, genuinely, massively creative during the shoot.

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"So I think they’re very brave and they take their own line and they give us actors a lot of fun because we have to be on our toes. They see in us things we don’t see in ourselves.”

“Reading the scripts was really exciting because you couldn’t predict it,” adds Haggard, 45, best known for Breeders and Back To Life.

The Boat Story comes to BBC One on Sunday, November 19.

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