Stephen Poliakoff, May 2008
1 December 1952 |
Holland Park, London, England
|Spouse(s)||Sandy Welch (2 children)|
Early life and career
Poliakoff was born in the Holland Park district in west London to Anglo-Jewish and Russian Jewish parents, Ina (née Montagu), and Russian born Alexander Poliakoff. The second of four children, he was sent at a young age to boarding school, which he hated. He then proceeded to Westminster School where he attracted sufficient attention for Granny, a play written and directed by him, to be reviewed in The Times newspaper. After Westminster, he went to King's College, Cambridge but never took a degree.
Poliakoff continued to write stage plays, becoming writer-in-residence for the National Theatre at the age of 24, but he became increasingly interested in the medium of television, with Stronger Than the Sun (1977 – BBC1 Play for Today), Bloody Kids (1980 – ATV), Caught on a Train (1980 – BBC2 Playhouse) starring Peggy Ashcroft, and Soft Targets (1982 – Play for Today). There were also TV adaptations of his stage plays Hitting Town (1976 – Thames Television/ITV Play for Britain) and City Sugar (1978 – Scottish Television / ITV The Sunday Drama).
Poliakoff's first feature film was Runners, directed by Charles Sturridge, starring James Fox, Jane Asher and Kate Hardie. It received a limited theatrical release in 1983 before being shown in Channel 4's Film on Four slot. His directorial debut was the much-lauded and now rare Hidden City (1988), premiered at the Venice Film Festival and starring Charles Dance, Richard E. Grant and Cassie Stuart. His television career continued with She's Been Away (1989) starring Peggy Ashcroft and also winning awards at Venice, before a return to film with Close My Eyes (1991), starring Clive Owen, Saskia Reeves and Alan Rickman in an elaborate reworking of the incest theme that had been central to Hitting Town, followed by Century (1993), with Owen, Dance and Miranda Richardson. Less successful were Food of Love (1997) with Grant, Nathalie Baye and Joe McGann and The Tribe (1998) starring Joely Richardson and Jeremy Northam, the latter eventually screened on BBC2 in the absence of a cinema distribution deal.
He subsequently returned to his favoured form, television, this time choosing a flexible serial format resulting in the acclaimed and Prix Italia-winning Shooting the Past (1999), the fresh critical and audience success of Perfect Strangers (2001), a family drama starring Matthew Macfadyen, Michael Gambon and Lindsay Duncan and The Lost Prince (2003), a single drama recognized with an Emmy award rare for a non-American production. The film also featured Miranda Richardson in a Golden Globe nominated performance as Queen Mary of Teck. Michael Gambon, Gina McKee, Tom Hollander and Bill Nighy appeared in major roles. Late 2005 saw the one-off drama Friends and Crocodiles starring Damian Lewis and Jodhi May, with its overlapping companion piece, Gideon's Daughter, starring Bill Nighy, Miranda Richardson and Emily Blunt, appearing early the following year. The latter won a Peabody Award in April 2007, with Golden Globes for Nighy and Blunt.
In 2005, he renewed recent criticisms of BBC scheduling and commissioning policy, arguing that the reintroduction of a regular evening slot for one-off plays on BBC1 would provide the re-invigoration of drama output that has become a priority for the corporation.
Joe's Palace was screened on 4 November 2007 on BBC One and Capturing Mary was screened on BBC Two on 12 November 2007. The Culture Show also screened a Poliakoff special, including an interview between Poliakoff and Mark Kermode and a new TV play, A Real Summer, on 10 November.
In 2011, Poliakoff wrote a seven-minute short film, Astonish Me, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the World Wildlife Fund. Starring Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton, the film was shown in Odeon Cinemas in August 2011 and made available on the WWF website and YouTube.
A new work by the writer and director, Dancing on the Edge, a five-part series following the fortunes of a black jazz band in 1930s London, was broadcast by the BBC in February 2013.
His brother, Martyn Poliakoff, is a research professor of chemistry at the University of Nottingham, as well as the foreign secretary and vice-president of the Royal Society. Martyn is also the father of physicist Simon Poliakoff and psychology lecturer Ellen Poliakoff.
All London except where otherwise stated:
- Granny (also directed) Westminster School, 1969
- Lay-By (co-writer) Edinburgh Festival, August 1971
- Pretty Boy Royal Court, June 1972
- Berlin Days Little Theatre, 1973
- Sad Beat Up Little Theatre, 1974
- The Carnation Gang Bush, 1974
- Clever Soldiers Hampstead, 1974
- Heroes Royal Court, July 1975
- Hitting Town Bush, 1975
- City Sugar Bush, October 1975; Comedy Theatre, March 1976; Phoenix Theatre (New York), January 1978
- Strawberry Fields NT Young Vic, August 1976; NT Cottesloe, 1977; Manhattan Theatre Club (New York), May 1978
- Shout Across the River Warehouse Croydon, 1978; Phoenix Theatre (New York), December 1979
- American Days ICA, June 1979; Manhattan Theatre Club (New York), December 1980
- The Summer Party Crucible Theatre, Sheffield 1980
- Favourite Nights Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, November 1981
- Breaking the Silence RSC The Pit, November 1984
- Coming in to Land National Theatre Lyttelton, January 1987
- Playing With Trains RSC The Pit, November 1989
- Sienna Red Richmond Theatre, May 1992
- Sweet Panic (also directed) Hampstead, February 1996
- Blinded by the Sun National Theatre Cottesloe, September 1996
- Talk of the City (also directed) RSC Swan, Stratford 1998; Young Vic February 1999
- Remember This National Theatre Lyttelton, October 1999
- Sweet Panic revival (also directed) Duke of York’s, November 2003
- My City (also directed) Almeida Theatre, September 2011
- Runners (director Charles Sturridge, 1983)
- Hidden City (1988)
- Close My Eyes (1991)
- Century (1993)
- Food of Love (1997)
- Glorious 39 (2009)
- Astonish Me (short) (director Charles Sturridge, 2011)
Television dramas and films
All (originally) made for British television unless otherwise stated.
- Stronger than the Sun (1977) (part of Play for Today series)
- Bloody Kids (1980)
- Caught on a Train (1980)
- Termeszet (Hungary, 1981)
- Doppelte Welt, Die (West Germany, 1985)
- She's Been Away (1989)
- Frontiers (co-written with Sandy Welch, 1996)
- The Tribe (1998)
- Shooting the Past (1999)
- Perfect Strangers (2001)
- The Lost Prince (2003)
- Friends and Crocodiles (2006)
- Gideon's Daughter (2006)
- Joe's Palace (2007)
- Capturing Mary (2007)
- Dancing on the Edge (2013)
- screenonline: Poliakoff, Stephen (1952–) Biography
- Stephen Poliakoff
- Article in Saga magazine, December 2009
- Rushdie and Eavis lead honours, BBC News, 15 June 2007.
- The University of Nottingham: Martyn Poliakoff
- Royal Society: Martyn Poliakoff
- Stephen Poliakoff at the Internet Movie Database
- Stephen Poliakoff at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Guardian interview, 29 October 2007
- Guardian' Interview, 28 November 2009
- Poliakoff on Film, BBC, 2003.