Set in 1850’s London, The Doll Factory is an adaptation of Elizabeth Macneal’s acclaimed novel that explores how a would-be artist starts to achieve her dreams but develops a dark obsession with her newfound independence.
The story follows Iris (played by Esmé Creed-Miles), a woman who paints dolls for a living during the day with her sister Rose, while secretly wishing for more from her life.
But as her relationship with a taxidermist and a painter takes her into a new world, Iris has to decide whether she is willing to sacrifice her twin sister to escape and start a new life.
Elizabeth’s book is both a page-turning thriller & a moving exploration of what it meant to be a woman and an artist in the 19th Century- it gave us an opportunity to make a show which would be as a compelling and hooky as it was profound
Anna Burns, exec producer at Buccaneer
“When we meet Iris and Rose, their relationship is broken, simmering with underlying resentment and unspoken feelings,” says Anna Burns, exec producer at Buccaneer, which is producing the show for Paramount+ in the UK.
“Over the course of the series, we unpack what drove a wedge between the once-close twins. The question of whether they will manage to reunite is at the very heart of the story.”
The six-hour show sticks closely to the story told in the novel but also expands the “beautiful world” in which Iris lives, Burns says.
“Elizabeth’s book is both a page-turning thriller and a moving exploration of what it meant to be a woman and an artist in the 19th Century. We felt it gave us an opportunity to make a show which would be as a compelling and hooky as it was profound.”
Burns continues: “Somewhere in the book Elizabeth uses the phrase “the curious liminality between beauty and horror”. Charley [Miles], our screenwriter, wrote this into the stage directions on the first page of Episode One.
“For us the quote encapsulates what makes the tone of the entire novel so interesting and ripe for adaptation. Our aim throughout was to try and create a show which sat in that space.”
And even for those who have read the novel, there are twists, Burns says.
“Charley dug into the corners of Elizabeth’s novel, building layers of story and connections between characters which feel utterly in keeping with the spirit of what Elizabeth wrote, but also represented her own, very modern voice.
“We’ve remained largely faithful to the novel but, with Elizabeth’s blessing, we reworked one story strand to create a new twist which we hope even fans of the book might not see coming.”
The show has already been picked up by SBS in Australia and TVNZ in new Zealand, deals that mark out its international credentials, says Tom Misselbrook, SVP of scripted sales & development at Cineflix Rights, which distributes.
“It has that enticing combination of bestselling IP and a package of exciting talent, both in front of and behind the camera, which is what we are always asked for from international buyers.
“Tonally the series hits a lot of marks too that audiences are really responding to at the moment. At the centre of the show is the story of a woman who dreams of freedom but falls into a thorny love triangle, which twists and turns and is incredibly gripping, so it has all those elements of a modern-day suspense thriller.”
Distributor: Cineflix Rights
Broadcaster/Streamer: Paramount+ UK
Logline: A suspenseful period drama with a sharp modern gaze, The Doll Factory is a searing story of love, art, freedom – and what happens when a woman dares to take what she wants in a world that would rather kill her than let her have it