Script to Screen: The Marlow Murder Club

The Marlow Murder Club (Source: UKTV)

Ahead of the launch of The Marlow Murder Club tomorrow, Mark Layton speaks to creator Robert Thorogood and exec producer Alison Carpenter about the female-led crime drama’s nine-year journey from screen to book and back again.

Death In Paradise creator Robert Thorogood is back with a new murder mystery show, once again based on one of his own book series. However, this new title takes place a far cry from the sun and sand of the Caribbean and instead follows sinister goings-on in the English riverside town of Marlow.

Launching on UKTV free-to-air channel Drama and streaming service UKTV Play tomorrow, and also coming to PBS Masterpiece in the US, The Marlow Murder Club is a 2 x 120-minute production following a group of women in the titular town whose lives are changed forever by a brutal murder.

After the success of his long-running ‘cosy crime’ series Death In Paradise, and its subsequent franchise expansion, you might think execs would bite Thorogood’s hand off at the chance to board his next TV project. However, the novelist and screenwriter tells TBI that it was a nine-year journey to bring The Marlow Murder Club to the screen.

“I felt really confident that I would be able to set it up somewhere – and the entire TV industry said no. I was frustrated, because I felt it was always going to be a good idea,” says Thorogood, of his first attempt to launch the show in 2015.

Keeping the idea in mind, Thorogood instead transferred his planned screen project to the page, releasing the novel The Marlow Murder Club in 2021, followed by Death Comes To Marlow in 2022, and The Queen Of Poisons earlier this year.

Applying the adage that the TV industry loves a book adaptation to almost comical effect – there was now interest in a screen version. “Weirdly, although I had Death In Paradise, and I had tried to set it up in 2015, now that there was a book, the industry was more interested.”

Robert Thorogood & Samantha Bond (Source: UKTV)

Act one: Second stab at screen life

Monumental Television, the female-led UK indie behind Ghosts for the BBC and Harlots for Hulu, set up by Alison Owen and Debra Hayward in 2014, approached Thorogood with an offer to option the novel.

“We’d been tracking the novel, as we had a strong feeling from the premise that it would appeal to us,” Monumental’s creative director Alison Carpenter tells TBI. “Then once we read it, we were even more keen – it had such a great combination of characters, clever mystery, and of course the beautiful and distinctive setting.”

For Thorogood, it was a match made in production partnership heaven. “Because it was a female story, I really wanted to set it up with an entirely female production team. I always wanted to be the only man in the room because I thought that it was really important that I never had a majority voice at all.

“When I spoke to Deb and Alison Owen at Monumental, they were pitching to me why they thought they’d be good to make the show. What they didn’t know was I just went, ‘Oh, my God, you’re amazing, because you make Ghosts’. But I kept a poker face and then ‘reluctantly’ agreed that I’d sell them the idea – and then we made the script.”

The series is a co-commission between UKTV and PBS Masterpiece in the US, with the former “incredibly supportive from the start,” says Carpenter, and the latter brought on as co-producers after a well-received pitch at Content London to help complete financing. ITV Studios, meanwhile, is distributing worldwide.

“Being part of ITV Studios means we work closely with the global distribution team on nearly all of our projects, and they’re also brilliant partners and facilitators,” adds Carpenter. “The final piece of the puzzle is the HETV tax credit, which is critical to all of our productions.”

The Marlow Murder Club (Source: UKTV)

Act two: Love letter to amazing women

The show follows retired archaeologist Judith Potts (Samantha Bond), who lives alone in a faded mansion in the peaceful town of Marlow, filling her time by setting crosswords for the local paper. When Judith hears a gunshot coming from a neighbour’s garden, she believes a brutal murder has taken place.

However, the police are reluctant to believe her story, so Judith forms an unlikely friendship with local dog-walker and empty-nester Suzie (Jo Martin) and unfulfilled vicar’s wife Becks (Cara Horgan) as they start an investigation of their own.

Eventually asked to assist with the official police investigation, headed by newly promoted Tanika (Natalie Dew), the women must piece together clues, grill suspect witnesses, and face down real danger as they work against the clock to stop the killer in their tracks.

“I really wanted to just write a love letter to all the amazing women who raised me,” says Thorogood who wanted his characters to “live in a world where they were going to be the heroes of a murder mystery.”

The writer reveals that one of the rules he set for both the book and show was that the women were going to catch the killers “without the help of any man at any time, in the same way that there are so many stories of men solving crimes without the help of any women.”

Carpenter adds: “There’s something special about the mix of ages, and the fact that these are women whose paths might not otherwise have crossed. It’s fun for the audience to watch the friendship unfold, whether that’s the gentle teasing that comes through as they grow more confident in each other’s company or seeing them start to open up to one another and reveal more of themselves.”

Alison Carpenter (Source: Monumental Television)

Act three: Cosy crime

The Marlow Murder Club launches at a time of renaissance for ‘cosy crime’, when the increasing global demand for crime shows – both scripted and otherwise – is also making room for such murder mysteries lacking in gore and where the good guys usually triumph.

“I think the more that the world is difficult, the more sometimes we might find solace in stories, which are not going to be too upsetting,” notes Thorogood. “It’s also because ‘cosy crime’ never went away. People have always been watching Midsomer Murders, people continually ask for another Jonathan Creek, quite rightly. I mean, who would have thought that Inspector Morse would continue after the death of Colin Dexter, and the death of John Thaw, and yet the prequel to Inspector Morse (ITV’s Endeavour) was absolutely brilliant.”

It’s a gentler approach to crime drama that Thorogood feels will help the show’s global potential. Carpenter, meanwhile, is also banking on the appeal of Marlow itself and the cast of characters that has been assembled for the story.

“It’s a part of England that I don’t think has been on screen before, and it’s just a lovely world to be in. Beyond that, I think with these kinds of shows it’s always a combination of a really good story that keeps audiences engaged, then it’s the characters that bring you back episode after episode. I hope audiences will become invested in our brilliant women, enjoy seeing their idiosyncratic way of investigating, and want spend time with them.”

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