Shooting the Past

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Shooting the Past
Genre Drama
Written by Stephen Poliakoff
Directed by Stephen Poliakoff
Starring Timothy Spall
Lindsay Duncan
Liam Cunningham
Composer(s) Adrian Johnston
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 3
Producer(s) John Chapman
Production company(s) TalkBack Productions for BBC
Original channel BBC 2
Original release 10–24 January 1999

Shooting The Past is a television drama by Stephen Poliakoff, produced by TalkBack Productions for BBC Two and first shown in 1999. It was TalkBack's first drama production, the company being mainly known for its television comedy work. Focused around a photographic library threatened by closure, and the lives of its eccentric staff, it featured Timothy Spall and Lindsay Duncan, was awarded Best Drama Series at the Royal Television Society Awards of the same year and received other international awards, including the Prix Italia.


Shooting the Past delves into a world quite separate from modern life, and demonstrates that the preservation of the past, in order to tell the extraordinary stories of the lives of ordinary people, can be astonishingly powerful and revealing. An American company buys the building in which the Fallon Photo Library is kept, planning a complete remodeling and modernisation to turn it into a business school. The company president, Christopher Anderson, had informed one of the members of staff, Oswald, but Oswald fails to pass on the news. On their arrival, having expected the library of ten million photographs to have been disposed of and the building evacuated, Anderson tells the staff that the majority of the collection must be destroyed if they cannot sell it. However, the staff members believe that the collection must be kept in its entirety, not broken up or sold to different buyers. As such, there is little interest. Marilyn manages to make a successful pitch to an advertising company, but as most of the collection is in black and white the potential sale falls through. To prove the value of their library, the group presents Anderson with intriguing stories put together by researching photos from all over the collection, including finally the colourful history of his own grandmother. The research has been conducted largely by Oswald. Finally convinced that the collection should be saved and kept whole, Anderson finds a buyer in America who will accept all ten million pictures.


The collection's photos, as seen in this series, are drawn from Britain's greatest picture library, the Hulton Collection, which had its origins with the photos taken for Picture Post Magazine (1938–57). At least two of Bert Hardy's photos, for example, can be seen in this series, including his view of a panda "taking a picture" of Mr. Hardy's son Michael. The Hulton Collection is part of Getty Images, the world's largest picture library as of early 2008.[1]

The two stories which staff members present to Mr. Anderson are fictional accounts created for this film. According to Poliakoff on the commentary track of the DVD, Lily Katzmann, the Jewish girl, was played by Emma Sackville. Hettie, the Irish musician and Anderson's grandmother, was played by a model whom Poliakoff did not name.



  1. ^ The Hulton Archive, A History in Pictures Webpage found 2008-03-29.

Further reading[edit]

  • Holdsworth, Amy (2006). "'Slow Television' and Stephen Poliakoff's Shooting the Past". Journal of British Cinema and television (Edinburgh University Press) 3 (1): 128–133. doi:10.3366/JBCTV.2006.3.1.128. 

External links[edit]