Tuesday, 22 March 2016


A Cumbrian extended family is confronted with the autism diagnosis of their youngest member in this six-part drama which started this week.

The A Word is based on פלפלים צהובים (Pilpelim Tsehubim = "Yellow Peppers"), a 2010-2014 Israeli hit series about a family of farmers in an isolated rural village of the Arava desert who copes with the diagnosis of their 5-year old son with autism. Created by Keren Margalit, the 26 X 35-minute drama, aired in Israel on Channel 2, was produced by July August Productions with Keshet Broadcasting.

Yellow Peppers is distributed under the title The A Word by Keshet International. In April 2011, two episodes were presented as a part to the World Autism Awareness Day at the United Nations in the presence of Keren Margalit. The BBC bought the rights for a British adaptation in 2014 and Keshet asked scriptwriter Peter Bowker (Monroe, Occupation, Blackpool) to do his own version. He put his experience as a former teacher of children with learning disabilities in this 6 X 60-minute series.

Paul and Alison Hughes live in Cumbria's Lake district with their two children: teenage daughter Rebecca (from Alison’s first marriage) and five-year-old son Joe. Paul works at the brewery owned by his father-in-law, Maurice, a widower. He wants to open a gastropub with his wife, who runs a diner. The young Joe is music obsessed, non-communicative and he doesn't play with other children. When Alison's brother Eddie and his wife Nicola return to the family home to rebuild their broken marriage they suggest that the boy's problems run deeper. Maurice expresses his own concerns for his grandson.

Alison and Paul bring Joe to a specialist and their son is finally diagnosed with autism. The A Word is directed by Peter Cattaneo (Rev, The Full Monty), Dominic Leclerc and Susan Tully. There's a fine cast: Morven Christie (Grantchester) as Alison Hughes, Lee Ingleby (Our Zoo, Inspector George Gently) as Paul, Greg McHugh (Eddie Scott), Vinette Robinson (Nicola Daniels), 6-year old newcomer Max Vento as Joe Hughes and Molly Right (Rebecca). The great Christopher Eccleston is back in Cumbria (where ITV's Safe House was filmed too) to play Maurice Scott, his first grandfather role.

This premiere is good, though overwhelmed by the postcard scenery and the soundtrack (Arctic Monkeys, The Mekons, etc...) As the episode gets stronger towards the end, The A Word should be more interesting next week. Definitely done with intelligence and sensitivity (through the perspective of the family), this drama is a commendable contribution to raise awareness about autism. And hopefully it will draw a new attention on the Israeli original version beyond its format sales. The A Word is a production of Tiger Aspect's Fifty Fathoms (part of Endemol Shine UK) and Keshet Productions UK for the BBC. It is licensed by Keshet International.

Produced by Marcus Wilson (Doctor Who). Keren Margalit, Peter Bowker and Patrick Spence exec produce. Jenny Frayn is the co-executive producer. Music composed by Rob Lane. Ruairí O'Brien (The Fall, Line of Duty) is the cinematographer. On March 30, French pubcaster France 2 will air a special evening about autism starting with Presque comme les autres, a TV movie adapted from Louis, pas à pas, a book written by Gersende & Francis Perrin. World Autism Awareness Day is on April 2.


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