A fiery new four-part ITV drama shows what happened in 1666 when The Great Fire Of London destroyed most of our capital city. Broadchurch and Garrow’s Law star Andrew Buchan told What’s On TV how it was all the fault of his character, baker Thomas Farriner…
Did you know much about Thomas and The Great Fire of London before you started filming?
“I knew very little about it other than the year it started, 1666, and where it began – in Pudding Lane. But I didn’t know the name Thomas Farriner, nor did I know that he ran a bakery or that he started it! Allegedly!”
So Thomas isn’t going to be a popular fellow in this drama is he?
“Seemingly the whole of London is looking for him because not only has this fire spread but word has spread that it began at his bakery. It’s a journey within a journey, you see him fighting the fire, trying to flee London and keep his family together.”
What was it like filming with the intense flames around you?
“The heat at the time was very oppressive and we get that across well I think. There’s not much of an intro before we’re hit with the fire action, almost from the word go, and Thomas is at the centre of most of the big fire action. It was terrifying to film among the flames, and we had firefighters on standby all the time. It really brought home how frightening it must have been for real back then. As Thomas tries to get his kids out of the burning bakery, he even has to catch one of his daughters as she jumps from a window ledge.”
So the fire scenes aren’t using CGI…
“They burned the whole set, amazingly! Luckily I was good enough at running and avoiding sparks!”
Thomas is heavily involved in trying to put out the blaze before it spreads through much of London, isn’t he?
“At the time it wasn’t exactly a seaplane method they used! Instead of putting a fire out, they just remove the building next to it so it can’t catch and the fire won’t spread. It didn’t really work too well at first during the Great Fire, though. The total was somewhere around 13,000 buildings destroyed.”
Thomas has an interesting relationship with his sister-in-law played by Game Of Thrones and Downton Abbey star Rose Leslie. She’s been told her husband is missing at sea, so has become close to Thomas ever since…
“Theirs is a relationship I think flourished during certain wars when people are away and look after family. It treads a very fine line that relationship. Is he just being caring and protective or is this symbolising something else.
Do we see him involved with famous diarist Samuel Pepys, played by Daniel Mays?
“It’s quite a solitary journey for Thomas other than with his children but Samuel Pepys is his one anchor, his one point of contact with the establishment, as Thomas is a bread supplier for the Royal Navy.”
Did you learn lots?
“Although I didn’t know much of the history, a lot of people did, so they’d say to me: ‘Does Pepys still bury his cheese!?’ And I was like ‘what books are you reading in your spare time?’ and then find out Pepys does have a very expensive collection of cheeses and Parmesans so in a panic he buries them.”
What was the most surprising thing you learned?
“So many things surprised me. The actual city of London back then is quite a small area mostly made out of wood and nobody did much very quickly. The fact that there was so much indecision was a huge shock.”
What are the most terrifying scenes for Thomas?
“Thomas catching his daughter as she tries to jump to a high window ledge. He’s got two kids but he’s looking after his sister-in-law’s son as well. So getting the kids out of the burning bakery was intense, then there were boat journeys, stampedes and trying to get his family across the River Thames!”
What sort of baker are you?
“I used to work in a kitchen in Horwich just outside Bolton, in a Greek restaurant and I was a pot washer but I had to clean out the ovens, leaning right in and cleaning. I’ve never been a baker but I’ve certainly had my fair share of kitchening! Scrubbing, heat and pans and stuff.”
You’ve been in plenty of big dramas such as Garrow’s Law, The Fixer and Broadchurch. What’s been your career-changing drama?
Broadchurch has been pretty big. It just got so much coverage. Lots of people came up to me asking questions, people on supermarket checkouts! It took us by surprise really. We’ve been filming it again this summer.”
What else have you got lined up?
A possible something! I’ve just played Jimmy Stewart in a short film. That was a week learning how to do the impression. The key is if you make your teeth join exactly together or put your bottom teeth a bit forward at the bottom!
* The Great Fire begins on ITV on Thursday Ocotber 16 at 9pm