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I TALK Cilla

Sheridan Smith who puts in quite possibly one of the best performances of her career in Cilla, a new three-part ITV drama written by Jeff Pope (Mrs BiggsThe Widower).

Last month I attended the press launch for Cilla where I watched all three episodes and attended a press conference where Sheridan Smith and Jeff Pope, Aneurin Barnard and Ed Stoppard were in attendance. Here's what was said and what I made of Cilla...


If you're expecting to see Cilla around the time of Surprise Surprise or Blind Date then you'll be a little disappointed as Cilla isn't about Cilla the TV Presenter, it's about Cilla the singer, a period which younger viewers (such as myself) knew very little, if anything, about.


Cilla captures the essence of 1960s Liverpool brilliantly, a time where the Merseybeat music scene was on the verge of exploding in a blaze of tight-fitting skirts, stiletto heels and beehives.


Speaking about why he chose to focus on Cilla's life as a singer and not a TV presenter, Jeff Pope revealed that he "...went to the end first, when I discovered that next to Brian Epstein's body when he died was a contract for Cilla, the entertainment show and I thought - well I knew that was my end because from there onwards is the Cilla I and most of us know. I thought that earlier bit was worth looking into."


You'll also be disappointed if you expected to see a cameo from the lady herself, Cilla Black. Speaking at the press launch, writer Jeff Pope revealed that she won't be making an appearance - "...if Cilla came up to set, and just had one line, the idea of her standing there watching Sheridan sing all her songs, she'd've turned around and gone away again! So no... she wanted to let us do it and didn't want to put a footprint on it."


Despite not wanting to appear in Cilla, Jeff Pope revealed how she was "...very open with me in the research phase. It took her a little while, but in the end she was very frank, and she was very insistent that we go into areas that weren't viewed through rosy spectacles. She was very upfront about how determined she was and how sharp her elbows were. I couldn't have wished for more really."


It's not only Jeff who met up with Cilla, Sheridan also recalled how she was "really nervous" when she went for dinner with Cilla - "I think I babbled away at her... and in the 1964 interview with you when you said this I though it was really ballsy of you! - and she couldn't quite keep up with what I was saying! It's a huge responsibility because I don't want to let them down. She's much more of a tough cookie than me and I just admire that. It was pressure, but just an honour to play her. I'm a huge fan of hers."


Sheridan also revealed how Cilla gave her her mobile number and said to ring, but she was "...too shy to ring! I was too nervous. What do you ask? I can't just keep bothering her everyday! So I didn't ring her, but hopefully I did her story justice and hopefully I'll see her again."


Speaking at the press launch for the series, Sheridan told us how she's "...not an impersonator. I'm an actress. I just wanted to get little mannerisms, the way she touches her hair and how she sings..." which if there's one thing people will take away from Cilla, it's the revelation that Sheridan Smith has an amazing singing voice! "I had a few singing lessons leading up to it. I was singing with my mouth wide, and Cilla sings with her mouth quite closed, so little things like that I was kind of picking up along the way."


Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last month, Sheridan revealed how she "...did it all live. I sung it all live on the day. It's terrifying, it's like being naked in front of the entire the crew!" Again, this adds to the authenticity of Cilla and helps to tell that real-life story so well.


Starring alongside Sheridan and playing Cilla's late husband (then boyfriend) Bobby, is Aneurin Barnard (The White Queen), who is a great young actor who has already had a great career, but I'm predicting even bigger things for.


The chemistry between the two of them really comes across on screen, which for a biopic is really important as you're portraying someone's real life and the more believable you can make it, the better the drama will be.


Cilla is as much about the relationship between Cilla and Bobby as it is about her rise to stardom. Bobby sadly passed away in 1999 and speaking at the press launch for Cilla, writer Jeff Pope told how "...at its heart, it's a love story between Cilla and Bobby, but also Cilla and Brian (Epstein) as well."


Speaking at the press launch for Cilla, Aneurin revealed how he had no footage of Bobby to watch and base his performance on, and described Bobby as "the man in the shadows" and "...because we sadly lost Bobby in '99, I couldn't go and talk to the man either." He also revealed how Cilla's son Robert was able to give him "...some personal information about how his father was as a man, but also as a brutal manager. Hopefully I've found the young Bobby, but I'll never know!"


Another key man in Cilla's life was Brian Epstein, who in Cilla is played by Ed Stoppard (The Politician's Wife) who puts in a great emotional performance. Brian Epstein managed The Beatles from 1962 after discovering them in The Cavern club and later turned Cilla into a stra He sadly died of an accidental drugs overdose in 1967 which is where the drama Cilla ends.


At the press launch, Ed revealed how in preparation for playing Brian, he watched two interviews with Brian on YouTube "...which were useful in terms of the sort of cadence of his voice and his energy and his sort of physicality. But you have to remember that is a person who's constantly on camera, so almost by definition is not behaving in a sort of naturalistic way, so you have to take that and distill it a little bit."


The way in which Ed has chosen to portray Brian really makes you feel for him as a person, as you're able to witness how tragic his life behind closed doors really was. Brian was a man hiding his homosexuality, drug taking, gambling, and depression.


Cilla also stars Melanie Hill (Waterloo Road) and John Henshaw (The Visit), who play Cilla's mother and father, Big Cilla and John White.


Cilla tells a really compelling story and tells it brilliantly, and it's a story which I certainly had never heard before. Jeff Pope's script and partnership with Sheridan Smith, really lifts it from the page and the pair of them have become such an exciting partnership to watch unfold. Ever since Mrs Biggs and more recently The Widower, it's clear that whenever the two of them meet, something very special is created, and Cilla is another example of that.


It's a perfect drama for this time of year, the nights are drawing in, the weather's taking a turn for the worst, and what we really need is some great telly to enjoy... and Cilla is definitely that. Jeff's writing is as strong as ever, Sheridan really shines in the way she portrays Cilla.


Cilla starts Monday 15th September at 9pm on ITV

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