Better - DI Lou Slack (Leila Farzad)

Better – the cast and writers of the BBC’s dark new thriller speak

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Set in Leeds, Better comes from Humans writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent. 

Better a new five-part thriller from writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent lands on BBC One next week. The show stars Leila Farzad (I Hate Suzie), Andrew Buchan (Broadchurch) and genre favourite Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones, Andor).

Here’s the synopsis for Better:

Set and shot entirely in Leeds and West Yorkshire, Better explores the complex and powerful bonds of loyalty and family, set in a world where everyone has their own version of “right” and “wrong”. Examining the power of human conscience, we follow DI Lou Slack’s (Leila Farzad) epic battle towards redemption, by bringing down Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan); the man she has come to love like a brother and the man she has helped place at the head of Leeds criminal underworld. But while Col is a dangerous enemy to make, Lou’s biggest battle may yet be with herself.

Better's stars Leila Farzad and Andrew Buchan

19 years ago, when Lou was a young police officer at her lowest ebb and Col a low-ranking but ambitious newcomer to the Leeds underworld, their paths crossed, and they struck a deal that changed their lives forever. The bargain allowed Col to become very rich and very powerful, and Lou to turn around her failing career. A complex but special bond between the pair was forged, and so began Lou’s gradual slide into corruption. But now, when Lou’s family is brought to the brink of a tragedy, she must put right the wrongs that she has spent years rationalising and excusing, to have a second chance at a new, better life.

As well as Leila Farzad, Andrew Buchan and Anton Lesser, the show stars Samuel Edward-Cook, Zak Ford-Williams and Ceallach Spellman.

Writers Jonathan Brackley & Sam Vincent address the themes of the show:

Sam Vincent: “Better explores a few themes, but the topmost one is morality. It is about good and bad. It is the exploration of a bad person trying to become good and how difficult that is. And if that’s even possible, really, and what good and bad means, how people feel about themselves in different ways. We’ve come at the theme of morality from every way we possibly can in this world.”

They also discuss their inspiration:

Jonathan Brackley: “The inspiration for this story came a few years ago when Sam and I were kicking around some ideas around a gangster show. But what we came to realise quite quickly is that it was a bit too simplistic, and we wanted to get a bit deeper into the ideas of why do bad people do what they do?

Sam: “And on the flip side, why do good people do what they do? And so, we eventually developed the idea to incorporate a much more juicy and complex character on the side of the police who is a corrupt police detective, and how that person sees themself as ostensibly a good person while still doing bad things and then comes to realise that they’re actually, possibly a bad person, and how do they go about correcting that?”

Better - Leila Farzad and Andrew Buchan

And the casting of the show’s leads:

Sam: “In terms of casting, we were pretty unified early on that Leila would be such an interesting choice. Everybody on the team and involved with the decision loved her performance in I Hate Suzie and we just thought she would bring something really fresh and unexpected to what is hopefully a very interesting and rich character. And she just has so many qualities that help with that. Leila brings an effortless charm, magnetism, humour, all qualities she has as a person she brings to her performance, which really acts as an effective counterweight to the bad things that we see Lou doing in the misdeeds and really helps shape this person into a complete rounded character.”

“With Andrew Buchan as Col, he is such an incredibly intelligent actor, and you can see what he’s doing at a microscopic level. There’s one particular moment in the show where Lou is talking to him, and we wanted Andrew to portray Col realising that she’s lying to him. And when we watched it back you can actually see the exact moment that Andrew does this. So, he’s an actor with exceptional control and his performance as Col is really fabulous. We couldn’t be happier with the two of them and all of our cast. There are so many new and interesting faces. And then there’s also the likes of Anton Lesser…this cast really is sensational.”

Leila Farzad, who plays DI Lou Slack, talks about her character:

“Lou is incredibly complex because she has a completely ruthless, callous side to her. But she’s also a loving mother, a loving wife, and a loving friend, and is incredibly bright and good at her job. But she’s also a deceitful, manipulative, morally corrupt woman. So, she’s multi-layered, I would say!”

Better - DI Lou Slack (Leila Farzad)

She also talks about filming in Leeds:

“It was an absolute treat. It’s such a beautiful city. Being able to see the town hall every day, filming in places like the corn market exchange, there’s wonderful places to eat and being by the canal… it’s a real mixture of old and new. It was incredible to immerse myself in it for the time that I was shooting there. 90% of the crew were based in Manchester or Leeds so talking to them every day really helped fuel the motor of Lou Slack and imbued me with an extra something.”

Andrew Buchan, who plays Col, is full of praise for his co-star:

“Leila was terrific. She’s just effortless. She was a complete professional and a joy to work with. She brought something new and interesting to every scene. She gives the role brilliant weight and intensity. All her scenes were exciting and brilliant.”

Better - Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan)

He also talks about what he hopes the audience will get from the show:

“It’s someone questioning their own conscience and the decisions they’ve made possibly for the good of their family? Were they the right decisions, were the wrong decisions? Who are we to say? Does she redeem herself? Can she redeem herself? Are people redeemable? It’s fascinating the way that it’s written as it poses all of these moral questions.

In this series you’re dealing with flawed individuals, as there are in all aspects of life, regardless of profession. It’s interesting to see how they deal with particular circumstances and situations, but I don’t think you arrive at the end with a clear idea of what is good or bad. Hopefully, you will be able to empathise with their journeys and decisions in some way or another.”

Anton Lesser describes his role in the show:

“Vernon is a bent ex-detective. Throughout his whole career, he was up for sale for anybody, for anything and he avoided going to prison by doing a deal. His life has been, in his own estimation, a complete waste. He’s lost his career. He’s lost his wife. He’s lost his house. He’s lost friends. And the arrival of Lou Slack (Leila Farzad), in a way, gives Vernon the opportunity to do one redeeming act and make sense of an otherwise very senseless life.”

 “When he served as a detective, Vernon was in the same unit as Lou’s father, who was somewhat of a hero to her. However, through Lou’s interaction with Vernon, we get a different picture of this man. Vernon’s perspective of him was of a vain cop whose greatest talent was to take credit for other people’s hard work. Vernon had no time for this man, and so it’s an ironic coincidence that his daughter now comes to Vernon for help.”

Better - Vernon (Anton Lesser)

Lesser describes Vernon’s relationship with Lou Slack:

“Vernon’s relationship with Lou begins with her coming to ask him for help, ostensibly because she’s trying to work out the mindset of a fellow police officer who is corrupt. It doesn’t take long for Vernon to realise that she’s the one looking for help, she’s the one who’s in trouble. Vernon starts to realise that he may be able to help Lou because of his own experience with organised crime and with corruption.”

“Over the series their relationship gets quite complex as they grow closer and go through many ups and downs. Vernon gets it very badly wrong at one point and completely exposes Lou to even more danger than she would have been if she’d never met him. But then it moves on again to another phase where he makes the ultimate sacrifice.”

The show is executive produced for the BBC by Mona Qureshi and Nawfal Faizullah. For SISTER, it’s Jane Featherstone, Chris Fry, Lucy Dyke, Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, in association with Northern Sister. Jonathan Brough is the lead director.

Better comes to BBC One at 9pm on Monday, 13th February 2023.

Episodes of Better air weekly, with the whole series available to stream as a boxset on BBC iPlayer.