BY WILLIAM MARTIN - CULTBOX
ITV1’s new adaptation of Blake Morrison’s best-selling suspense thriller The Last Weekend stars Shaun Evans (Endeavor) as disillusioned working class primary school teacher, Ian.
Written by Mick Ford (Ashes To Ashes) and directed by Jon East, the three-part mini-series unfolds over four days across one hot summer bank holiday weekend in the Suffolk countryside. The scene of what should be a relaxing break for two couples with a long shared history becomes the backdrop to a chilling nightmare that no one could forsee, except perhaps for one person.
Morrison’s themes of male competitiveness and old friendships resonate with actor Shaun Evans who plays narrator Ian and husband of Emma in The Last Weekend. Like most people, Shaun still has a core group of friends from his past that he sees from time to time and like Ian and Ollie they get together for catch-ups and weekends away, albeit
without the tragic consequences.
“You always find that no matter how life has changed friends on the outside, inside us we each have our own role within a particular group that defines us and that’s what I like about this script. The characters have known each other since their crazy days of boozing and then they go away for this weekend and what an interesting place that is to begin a story.”
“I’m still friends with a handful of people from school,’ he continues, ‘but inevitably you do move on because life happens. People get married and have kids and develop but there is still that connection from childhood or university that you can’t escape and that’s one of the themes that makes The Last Weekend so interesting and relevant,” claims Shaun.
The fundamental bedrock of Ian and Ollie’s friendship is a curious one that Shaun believes is based on a true friendship despite the intense jealousy and fierce competitiveness that exists between them.
“The relationship between Ian and Ollie is crucial to the story,’ says Shaun. “Here we have two men, with a curious posturing vibe between them that is almost sexual. There is a continuing theme of jealousy underpinning their relationship, which is sometimes at odds with them because in many ways they are two sides of the same person. Ollie seems to have everything that Ian craves – respect at work, success, status, wealth and Daisy, while Ian has nothing but disappointment, insecurity and a lack of fulfilment. Yet there is something that has kept them together for the last 20 years.”
A central theme in both the book and script that resonates throughout the drama is the resurfacing of Ian’s feelings for Daisy. Despite his relationship with Ollie, Ian has always resented him for falling in love with Daisy and what slowly reveals itself over the weekend is Ian’s delusion that in his mind, his relationship with Daisy was so much more significant than in reality it was in hers. Coupled with his own feelings of inadequacy and his and Emma’s inability to conceive, convincing beautiful Daisy, mother to Archie and partner to his ‘best friend’, that they are meant to be together, whatever the cost, becomes the focus of Ian’s weekend. That and, of course, beating Ollie at every challenge they have set each other.
“Ian believes Daisy is the love of his life and he has always held a torch for her, so when he gets to spend the weekend with her he immediately becomes obsessed,” he explains.
“When Ian realises Daisy may potentially become single again [through Ollie’s illness] in the imminent future, it drives him wild with possibility. At the core of it we’ve all had our hearts broken and feel like we haven’t been given the things that perhaps we deserve and that’s what makes us human. It’s also how we deal with those things that propel us forward in life. Ian clearly has difficulty coming to terms with his lot and despite having a loving wife and a steady job, someone else always seems to be responsible for the disappointments in his life.”
“I think Ian is aware of his flaws but his passion and desire for Daisy is stronger than everything else. I find that very interesting – the idea for him that this one other person is going to make everything ok, and the idea that if he possesses her everything will come good, well life just isn’t like that.”
Both Ford and Morrison have written Ian as a dark and complex character but Shaun insists he must find some degree of empathy in order to play him.
“It’s always interesting to play someone with another side,’ explains Shaun. “The reality is we all have a dark side and the task when you go to work as an actor is to find that duality in the character you play. In addition, most actors myself included, need to find something about the character to connect with and in Ian and Ollie we find men who are, on the surface, ordinary and likeable until we dig deeper – and we all know people like that.”
One of the highlights of the production for Shaun has been the outdoor physical elements of filming and the unpredictably that inevitably comes with the territory.
“With this particular story a lot of scenes were filmed outside and with the UK weather being the way it is – it can be problematic! So each day we never knew what we were going to be doing though luckily the sun shone on the day of the naked swim in the North Sea.”
“I’ve also loved the concept of narrating the story. It’s something I’ve never done before and there is something Shakespearian about it. It’s interesting because you can play public moments and private moments.”
Shaun has worked with Rupert twice before this project which has really helped their onscreen chemistry.
“Rupert is brilliant and we’ve worked together three times in a year. Now we’re playing two best friends who have this history so rather than meeting somebody brand new and having to make up all that backstory we were able to dive into the roles.
“In a way, the back story is there for us because there’s already a familiarity and each of us knows how the other works so it creates something new which is good and I’m really grateful for.”