Driving Lessons

8:30pm Wednesday, December 30 on TV One

When writer/director Jeremy Brock said ‘Action’ for the first time on the set of Driving Lessons, it was the realisation of a long-held dream. The writer of successful screenplays Her Majesty, Mrs Brown and Charlotte Gray, co-writer of The Last King Of Scotland; the co-creator of the successful British television medical drama, Casualty, had started the screenplay of Driving Lessons some five years earlier.

The subject was intensely personal, a rites-of-passage story about the influence an older actress has on an awkward young teenager, the son of a vicar, when he goes to work as her assistant. Tonight’s Driving Lessons (at 8.30pm on TV ONE), is loosely based on a vignette from Brock’s own adolescence when he, also the son of a vicar, worked for legendary actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft.

It was only when Brock showed the screenplay to producer Julia Chasman the possibility of making Driving Lessons became real. Working together on the script, Chasman helped package the project, approaching the cast and financiers who were prepared to give Brock his directing opportunity. “I loved the script,” says Chasman, who was looking for a debut project for her new production company.

Starring Laura Linney (The Truman Show), Julie Walters and Rupert Grint (who play mother and son Molly and Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films), Sunday Theatre: Driving Lessons sees shy and downtrodden Ben (Grint) facing yet another dreary school holiday. Living in an absurdly conservative and traditional household, with his highly-strung and overbearing mother (Linney) and quiet, mild-mannered vicar father, have taken their toll on young Ben. While other kids are out having fun, Ben spends his holiday attending bible classes, having driving lessons with his mother and helping out at a local old people’s home.

However, Ben’s world is turned upside down when he answers an ad in the parish magazine and is employed by an eccentric retired actress Evie (Walters). Vulgar, dignified and childish all at once, she enters Ben’s life with a cataclysmic force, whisking him away on a series of adventures. Evie’s unconventional and often downright bizarre behaviour challenges Ben’s beliefs, and forces him to confront the very idea of who he wants to be.

Lauran Linney, who was keen to work with Brock, says there’s something very satisfying about working with first time directors. “I’ve worked with a lot of them. They have complete understanding of the material, particularly if they are directing their own screenplays. They understand how actors work and they have a decency of character about how to treat a crew.”

At the end of filming, Julia Chasman says her biggest surprise was how emotionally touching the story is. “When you develop a script over a number of years, you do fall in love with it and have your favourite characters, and lines, and so much of that was about the comedy. That was all there, of course, but I hadn’t realised until we shot it, how moving the story was.”