The Elephant Man is getting a new television adaptation with the BBC, and it’s tapping a surging star in Stranger Things actor Charlie Heaton.
The BBC has announced that it is developing a television miniseries of The Elephant Man, consisting of two parts that will air on BBC One. Charlie Heaton will embody the role of one of the most famous figures from late-19th century London, the tragically-afflicted Joseph Merrick, whose bodily condition rendered his skin with a pachyderm-like consistency and cumbersome deformities in his bone structure with bony growths, which made him barely ambulatory; a state that inspired his nickname.
The new TV adaptation of The Elephant Man will be biographical in structure, focusing on the Merrick’s formative years within a working-class family, which culminated in tragedy, rejection and even homelessness (in his condition), until he found a way to monetize his misfortune as a living exhibited curiosity, piquing the interest of paying customers ranging from gawking yokels to serious medical researchers, most notably Dr. Frederick Treves, with whom Merrick developed a friendship during a permanent stay at London Hospital.
BBC One’s The Elephant Man will be directed by Richard Laxton (Mum), who will work off a script by Neil McKay (Moorside). They are joined by a gaggle of executive producers in Elaine Pyke and Charlie Pattinson of New Pictures and Tommy Bulfin of the BBC, along with producer Tom Mullens (Poldark). International distribution will be fielded by all3media, which is credited as an associate producer.
This Elephant Man role represents a challenging and tremendously transformative onscreen run for Heaton, a British actor, who has gained instant acclaim on Netflix’s smash series, Stranger Things, for his role as Jonathan Byers, the embattled big brother to the ever-imperiled Will amidst the supernatural retro-style horror. He’s banked some big screen roles in films such as The Secret of Marrowbone and Shut-In, with TV spots on Casualty, Vera and DCI Banks.
Heaton will have plenty of big shoes to fill, since the tragic, fact-based story of Joseph Merrick is famously represented by the 1980 movie of the same name (which called the character “John Merrick”), which garnered 8 Oscar nominations and notable acclaim for star John Hurt and put director David Lynch on the mainstream map. The role has also been portrayed in numerous productions by actors such as David Schofield, David Bowie, Mark Hamill, Billy Crudup and even Bradley Cooper, who recently played the role onstage at London’s West End Theatre.
Interestingly actor Joseph Drake played the role in a 2013 run on the crime series, Ripper Street, a run that got creative with the facts, culminating in Merrick’s murder at the hands of that season’s crooked cop big bad. In reality, Merrick died in 1890 at the young age of 27 from non-murdery circumstances caused by his condition.
BBC One’s The Elephant Man miniseries is set for filming in Wales and is expected to premiere sometime in 2019.
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