In Celebration of Jack Thorne
Updated: Feb 21
Throughout the entertainment industry there's an underlying theme of writers/screenwriters being the butt of many jokes regarding 'dispensable' or 'forgettable' staff - especially within shows that take a metatextual jab at the industry itself. It's often done with a knowing smile and sly wink at the perceived attitude towards writers, and it's something that pretty much always works comedically because of this. But as a strage human on the internet with a blog, I'd be remiss to perk up and gush about the writers I admire from time to time, especially when they represent the best of an industry I'm working towards. It's important to talk about the things you love on the internet in order to keep the negativity that's so easily-seen at bay.
So without further ado, let's talk a little bit about British Screenwriter and Playwright, Jack Thorne.
Aside from being born in Bristol in 1978, not much is known about Jack's upbringing (other than what he uses within his work of course). After attending Pembroke College in Cambridge and not having a particularly good time, Thorne took to writing plays as a way of developing his own prejudices and feelings about himself.
"I’m a constant idiot in conversation – I always seem to sound either smug or stupid. Writing plays was a way of winning the conversation by controlling the conversation."
It wasn't until 2005 when When You Cure Me was put on at the Bush Theatre that Thorne began to make a name for himself, and that was after dozens of attempts. It's difficult to think of a slow period such as this now, when Thorne's one of the most prolific and acclaimed writers working today. Even as I'm writing this, the man's got two television series' currently broadcasting (The Accident and His Dark Materials), a feature film earning rave reviews (The Aeronauts) and a second annual run of his adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol charming the pants off audiences in London. Now his repertoire darts from stage to screen with apparent ease, with the likes of This is England and even Harry Potter and the Cursed Child casually making themselves known as your go through the list. But I'd like to cast your minds back to 2011 for a moment, because it's with The Fades that I first found his work.
I was quickly approaching sixteen. A horrible age. Well, all ages are horrible really. But the point is I think at the time I was looking for a new show to tell me how to fix my life. Doctor Who had taken it's first strange hiatus that made me worry about the show's future, Being Human's third series had an overwhelming sense of closure that I wasn't sure season four could pull back from, and all the pseudo-angst (I was too dorky for real angst) and frustration I had needed some kind of reasoning. Preferably one that was on television and featured a supernatural/horror tinge...
Enter The Fades, created and written by Jack Thorne. A supernatural drama about seventeen-year-old Paul (Caestecker) who can see the souls of deceased humans (fades) that have died but not ascended to another place. Points of ascension across the world are closing for an unknown reason, meaning more and more souls are becoming trapped. Abandoned on Earth, the fades soon become vengeful against the human race and transform into monsters who are once again able to touch (and therefore harm) people - so it's up to Paul, his best friend Mac (Kaluuya) and company to find out why the ascension point is closing and stop the fades army from killing everyone they love. Even now that's a pretty damn cool concept.
What made The Fades different was its flawless amalgamation of genres, it encompassed the growing fascination of meta-humour with the Mac's character, tapped into the anarchic and primal instincts of shows like Skins and Misfits but never took advantage of its teenage primary cast with it, the genre-heavy horror influence was enhanced by elaborate world-building cemented deep into the scripts and it all operated as this giant living, breathing world. One that I'd watch every week in my room then rewatch the next afternoon after school. Then when the series finished I rushed into shops at the release of the DVD and waited news of a second season which...never came. Oh, and the DVD blu-ray are both cruelly subtitled 'series one' too.
There's plenty of buzz words I could use to describe the show, and rightfully so. It was, for all intents and purposes, 'edgy' and 'fresh' in a sense that despite the age of its characters it felt mature - like we the audience were in safe hands. It wasn't afraid to take risks and show flaws, whether it was down to Paul's bedwetting problem, his sister Anna (Lily Loveless) and her inability to ask for help or Neil (Johnny Harris') harsh exterior being the byproduct of fear and loss. Every character seemed to stand out from the crowd, and The Fades was surely destined to sit in the pantheon of cult classics which were cancelled too soon.
But hey, the show won a BAFTA (one of Jack's FIVE among his other awards) for best TV Drama. I would have loved to see the commissioning team at that moment in time.
I never forgot the name Jack Thorne, and as my interest in screenwriting built I had begun to sought after the work of those I admired. I found out I had already been familiar with some of it, the first generation of Skins and Shameless, This is England '86. Dramas with various shades of intensity where the characters shone - that's where you could typically find Thorne's work. Theatre-wise aside from him own work he's adapted Let the Right One In, Georg Büchner's Woyzeck and he wrote the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Regrettably I'm yet to see any of his work on the stage, but the opportunity is always nearby and I can't wait to take advantage of it. I have, however, tracked down his theatrical work in the form of his scriptbooks and played over the performances many times in my head.
In the introduction to a collection of his first performed plays, Jack highlights some of his personal difficulties and insecurities. Only, there isn't so much a wallowing in a bizarre illness or the constant rejections throughout his youth as there is a glimmer of hope and appreciation of those who offered solace from the typically-isolating world of writing. Sure, for someone like me there's that familiar old feeling of 'they were just like me!' attributed to hearing about one's quest for success. But that's the gritty reality of things, and every now and then you need a bold shot of fantasy and optimism; magic makes the pain less painful perhaps.
"As a whole - [these plays] are about the journey of a lonely ill man to a man who's still a little ill but very much not alone. They could also be about someone getting happy. I hope that doesn't sound self indulgent."
There's a belief held by Russell T Davies that ‘You will have every idea you ever have by the age of sixteen. Then you will spend the rest of your life trying to figure that out’, and it's interesting to read that Jack Thorne has held a similar piece of advice throughout his career from his time at the Royal Court Young Writers' Programme. He details being told by Simon Stephens that every writer has a 'myth' - a singular tale that resonates throughout every piece of their work - whether intentional or not, and that it's not the duty of the writer themselves to find out what the myth is because it'll always be there.
This doesn't stop Jack from trying to identify his own however, and in the same introduction he tries to explore what his myth could be. "I think it has something to do with help - what help is, and the struggle we all go through trying to help others" he questions. This can of course be applied to the majority of his work, but I'd dare to go one step further and say that on top of the notion of help his myth occupies a slightly grander scale more in-keeping with the purpose of classical storytellers and bairds. To merge the realist and the fantastical under the notion of help perhaps? A notion so utterly human as compassion that it bypasses all restraints be it genre or medium. It's why a story such as Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials matches his writing perfectly.
Even outside of his work the myth he alludes to continues; Jack is a publically outspoken fighter for the representation and application of diversity within the industry, including those with disability. His twitter feed/writings to publications are awash with praise for others; it's the continued myth of trying to help others as much as possible, something wholesome in a time of such unease and uncertainty.
With all this on these projects and more keeping him busy it's astounding that his schedule allows for more projects, yet the future looks even brighter. Not only will 2020 see the release of his adaptation of The Secret Garden and a feature following Sherlock Holmes' sister Enola Holmes, but Thorne will also serve as screenwriter for Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land's) The Eddy - an upcoming musically-enthused Netflix series. If the man's obsession with writing and perfecting his craft allows him to bring more characters and worlds like the ones he's already created/co-created then I don't see any reason not to be grinning from ear to ear.
After all, how many other writers are trusted with such grandiose franchise extensions/adaptations? It says a lot about the man's skill as a writer that he continues to turn in dazzling scripts that extend the draws of the source material. He simultaneously manages to walk the boundary between respecting the collaborative process and leaving his mark on the project. We're only two episodes in to His Dark Materials and already the characters are fully-formed and allow for smoother transition into set-pieces and tension. Few can do it quite as successfully.
Now, how about you go dig up a copy of The Fades and get in on the action, aye?
Jack Thorne's theatrical work includes: When You Cure Me, Fanny and Faggot, Stacy, Burying Your Brother in the Pavement, 2 May 1997, Bunny, Hope, Greenland, Oliver Lewis (as part of Bush Theatre's Sixty-Six Books), Friedrich Duerrenmatt's The Physicists, Let the Right One In, The Solid Life of Sugar Water, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Junkyard, Georg Büchner's Woyzeck, The End of History and Dickens' A Christmas Carol
His writing for screen includes: Shameless, Coming Up, Skins, The Scouting Book for Boys, Cast Offs, This is England '86, This is England '88, The Fades, Sinbad, A Long Way Down, War Book, Glue, Don't Take My Baby, This is England '90, The Last Panthers, National Treasure, Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, Kiri, Bunny, Dirt Music, Radioactive, The Accident, His Dark Materials, The Aeronauts, The Secret Garden.
Jack Thorne's plays are available to purchase, published by Nick Hern Books. Jack Thorne Plays: One - a collection of some of his first plays, is also available.
The Fades is also still available on DVD and Blu-Ray. In case you were wondering.
His Dark Materials is currently airing on BBC and HBO.
The Accident is currently airing on Channel 4 in the UK.
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