Making six episodes of a emotionally heavy crime drama on an island is hard enough under the most hospitable circumstances. The upcoming AMC show “The Beast Must Die” somehow managed to do it on the Isle of Wight in the middle of lockdown.
“We were on this island. These characters are trapped on this island. Everything is cyclical, and it energized in a different kind of way,” series star Cush Jumbo said on Thursday at AMC’s panel at the virtual CTAM Winter 2021 Press Tour.
Aside from the various production challenges, “The Beast Must Die” also managed to update the Nicholas Blake novel of the same name, written over 80 years ago. In the series, Jumbo plays a grieving mother who slowly works her way into the life of the man (played by Jared Harris) she believes to be responsible for the death of her son. Writer Gaby Chiappe set out to not just transpose the novel’s story into a present-day setting, but to find an alternate avenue into the heart of it.
“In the book, Cush’s character is actually male. Instinctively, it felt rather familiar now, and I was personally much more interested in that character as a woman,” Chiappe said. “The mechanics about forensics change. But what’s happening internally to people, that journey is still the same.”
That switch meant that Jumbo (perhaps best known stateside for her role on “The Good Fight”) stepped into an acting challenge that meant fully investing in the psychological and physical sides of her character, even as the cast and crew stayed off the mainland.
“What [Gaby] had written was so epic in its scale of what quite an ordinary person goes through to do really extraordinary things,” Jumbo said. “There was also lots of physical prep for different parts of the show that I had to do, like sailing and stunts and walking into the sea and preparing that way. A lot of it was emotional and looking at what happens to a person when they really are able to go off-road and decide how they’re going to seek justice in that situation.”
With such a delicate, fraught story (and with plenty of uncertainty happening just off the coast), the cast and crew tried different ways to keep the atmosphere light. Series co-star Billy Howle said that filming on Halloween made for some interesting on-set interactions with director Dome Karukoski.
“People took the opportunity, including Dome, who decided to dress up as a clown. So I spent the day interacting with my director who was wearing a clown mask. That kept things exciting,” Howle said.
But aside from the odd costume, the setting provided the show a chance to take what could have been a crime show trope — a pivotal showdown on a sailboat — and make it feel more grounded.
“We were very lucky that the Isle of Wight, when it was being shot, had one of the lowest rates of infection in Britain,” Chiappe said. “But in fact, the reason it ended up being on the Isle of Wight was because sailing is a big part of this. I wanted to go somewhere where sailing didn’t feel like a sport or the preserve of the privileged only, because it’s a very expensive thing to do. It really isn’t something for the rich on the Isle of Wight. Everybody sails. I wanted Francis to not be somebody with a privileged background, but be able to sail. So it worked out beautifully for everybody.”
“The Beast Must Die” is set to premiere this spring on AMC.