Interview: Tom Bateman discusses new itv drama Beecham House.

Tom Bateman, Lesley Nicol, Gregory Fitoussi, Adil Ray, Marc Warren, Pallavi Sharda, Dakota Blue Richards, Viveik Kalra, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Leo Suter and Bessie Carter star in ITV’s epic new drama Beecham House, from award winning production company, Bend It TV.

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Beecham House was co-created, written and directed by one of the UK’s most respected filmmakers, Gurinder Chadha OBE.

Set on the cusp of the 19th century in Delhi before the British ruled in that region, the drama depicts the fortunes of the residents of Beecham House, an imposing mansion surrounded by acres of exotic woods and pristine lawns.

Tom Bateman (Vanity Fair, Jekyll and Hyde) takes the role of enigmatic, soulful John Beecham, a handsome former soldier who has purchased the magnificent mansion, Beecham House, to begin a new life with his family.

Wealthy and distinguished, John has witnessed profiteering and exploitation during his time with the controlling East India Company and has resolved to conduct his business as a trader in a more equitable manner. Determined to escape his previous life, John appears haunted by his past, but is inspired to become an honourable member of the region’s trading community.

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Tom Bateman tells us more…

What attracted you to the role?

For me it always comes down to script and characters. I was sent the first three scripts and I really wanted to know what happened next. I got very invested in all the characters. There’s a great line that John says which is, ‘I’m not here to build walls’ and I thought the idea of working with two very different cultures would be very interesting.

Why is John Beecham so appealing to play?

I’ve never played a character with so much weight to him, and that appealed to me straight away. My characters are normally quite energetic, but John is very strong, quite hard and you don’t really know who he is at first. He internalises, he’s a man of mystery. He’s got a baby but there’s no mother and he doesn’t tell anybody anything about that, which instantly makes you think something’s going on because otherwise why wouldn’t he just tell people who the baby’s mother is? He’s inherently a very good man who’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s been through the wars. He’s also very forward-thinking. He left the East India Company because he didn’t agree with the way they did things which, at the time, was very bold. A lot of people just went along with it and didn’t question it but he refused to be part of it. For someone to stand up against the norm makes them very intriguing to me.

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Did you do any research into the period?

I had five weeks to prepare and I did read a lot of books. They all tell a slightly different story. The East India Company weren’t the worst of the bunch when they started out. There were a lot of people trying to take over India, because the British Empire succeeded, they became this powerhouse. My character is very passionate about what was going on in India at the time. He feels strongly not only about the East India Company but about the divided Empire. I read a book by John Keay called India and it was the history from 3,000BC to the present day. It’s such a huge, fascinating country which was invaded by everyone over many, many years. I still only feel like I’ve scratched the surface of it despite all those books.

What challenges did you overcome during filming?

Was horse riding a challenge, for instance? Horse riding wasn’t a worry for me because I’ve done it a lot, but the horses were different out there. They’re polo horses which are very powerful. The only thing they want to do is run. They don’t want to stay still while you sit on them in a period costume and have a deep and meaningful chat. So the galloping scenes were fine for me, what I found hard was walking along with Leo [Suter who plays Daniel Beecham] while we talk about our father and our past, because you’re having to pull on the horses’ reins constantly to stop them running off.

What do you think viewers like about period drama?

They look beautiful, they’re very rich in composition. You’re instantly in another world. And horses! You don’t get to see horses that often. But for me, the reason I love filming period dramas, is that they instantly make you act differently. People don’t talk about their feelings as much. They don’t say, ‘Oh, I really fancy you’. And you don’t touch each other. So you have to find another way of expressing those feelings which is really fun. There was a scene in Vanity Fair in which Olivia [Cooke] and I can’t say how we feel, because it wasn’t done, but my character is going to [the Battle of] Waterloo and it was so rich and dramatic. You’re torn between what you want to say and what you’re allowed to say. And it oozes sexiness because you’re watching and going, ‘God, just kiss her!’ It’s like Mr Darcy and Lizzy Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. You know they’re going to get together but it takes six hours of anticipation to get there.

Catch Beecham House via itv hub.