Eternal Law: Interview: Matthew Graham (part 2)

In part 1, Matthew Graham describes the creation of Eternal Law; here he discusses some of the show’s mythology. Mild spoilers for those who have not seen episodes two and three…

The reveal about Mrs Sheringham’s past [that she gave up her angelic status to be with the man she loved, and therefore lost her wings] is made very early on in the series; I was expecting that to be played out later.

When Mrs Sheringham’s wings in the box would be revealed was something we debated among ourselves for quite a while. In the end we decided it was more intriguing to know it in the first couple of episodes and then have it inform our relationship with Mrs Sheringham.

So in episode three, they’re defending an old man from attempted murder and it becomes a story about our characters being in the world of those who are old and dying, what they cling on to, and why they cling on. David Bradley’s character clings onto life through anger; anger fuels him. Zak gets it but Tom finds it very hard to understand.

Inevitably it leads to conversations between Tom and Mrs Sheringham about getting old. She is aging gradually as a human being now. We  felt there was more to be played, knowing she was an angel that had given up her wings for a human life, than if we didn’t know that. We wouldn’t be able to play that story with the same level of pathos.

There are little moments: David Bradley has to come and live with them in the house for a while and he sees her panicking over something she’s forgotten, and tells her to tie a piece of string around her finger to remember. You see her bristle; she doesn’t want an 80 year old man telling her he understands what she’s going through. But later you see her with a piece of string around her finger, and she says, “It doesn’t matter, it’s nothing,” when Zak asks. You get that she’s struggling with mortality.

Are we going to find out more about the relationship between Zak and Richard, and why they’re at each other’s throats?

There’s no major reveal but by the end of the series, we realise a lot more, that they’ve been a lot closer in the ancient past than we might have supposed. It’s the classic “you could have been one of us,” with Richard saying to Zak, “You were that close to crossing the floor and joining the rebellion.” Zak is obviously someone who constantly questions Mr Mountjoy – he calls him a bastard. An angel calling God a bastard is a pretty rich notion. Clearly he has issues with authority.

We kept that element pretty low key, partly at ITV’s request and partly our own instinct too; there’s actually quite a lot for a mainstream audience to take on over the six weeks, with just the sheer nature of the show. If there’s an appetite at the end for more angelic mythology, then we’d like to go further, as we did with Life on Mars and Ashes. With those, once we knew there was a big appetite for the mystery, we knew we could run with that ball a lot further.

I can’t imagine how you could like the show and want less angels so I hope we can go and explore more of that. My ultimate dream is that we could get to see moments of that original rebellion. You’d have to be careful how you achieve that, but I’d love to see that, and down the line be able to bring in some of the big heavyweight angels like Michael or Gabriel or Raphael. It would be great to expand into that world.

Which would inevitably lead to some Mutant Ninja Turtle joke…

Yes, probably from Zak! Zak would hate them: he’d be really picky about those guys. “Oh here he comes, look at him, carry that sword everywhere do you?” I think we could have a lot of fun with it.

Have you or ITV worried about Eternal Law being sacrilegious, and offending Christians?

No, because I think there’s real affection. It’s like Rev: that’s very affectionate, but also very cheeky in its relationship with the Christian faith. We’re not being overtly Christian, although we have sequences in York Minster – and why would you not want to film in that wonderful building? – but I don’t feel it’s blasphemous.

I wanted to use Christian mythology, because I think it’s the most potent – but  I don’t think any of us wanted conversations with our angels about meeting Jesus. Once you do that, you have really nailed your colours to a certain mast. These are Christian angels, Jesus is the Son of God – as a belief system, that’s brilliant, but to make that overt in this show I think slightly devalues the currency of the angels.  If you ask why they don’t behave more Christian, that starts unravelling the characters. What we really wanted was the Powell/Pressberger notion of them as operatives, and Heaven is  quite a well-run corporation. We like alluding to that.

And there’s the Enochian idea of fallen angels mating with humans, possibly an avenue with Richard?

It would be more interesting with Zak. We have a love story running that ends very much on a cliffhanger; the series ends on a whopping cliffhanger in the classic Spooks tradition. “If you don’t want any more, we’re not going to tell you…” We do want to push the Angel mythology into areas it doesn’t usually go into.

The more that our characters behave like human beings point one then the more interesting they are and the more we can relate to them.

In part 3 of this interview, coming soon, Matthew Graham talks about his work on earlier genre shows including Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes and Doctor Who.

Read our reviews of episodes 1 and   3

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