A Co Antrim screenwriter, who has just been accepted as a member of BAFTA, has told how his interest in Ulster-Scots inspired him to create the first ever television drama in the dialect.
Ewen Glass, from Ballymoney, who has previously worked with actors Harvey Keitel and Gabriel Byrne, has penned a script for a new crime series, Sang Toon, based in his home town in the 1830s.
The script for the murder mystery was developed with BBC Northern Ireland and the film-maker is hoping that production might get the go ahead some time next year, featuring a cast of mainly local and Scottish actors.
The plotlines are influenced by traditional Ulster-Scots ballads, reinterpreting stories from songs such as Farewell Ballymoney and Black Velvet Band and exploring themes like love, betrayal, jealousy and murder.
Glass, who has worked in the film and television industry for 10 years and whose feature movie Little Kingdom has just been released on Amazon Prime, said viewers were so used now to watching subtitled dramas that he thought it would be interesting to make an Ulster-Scots series that celebrated the culture.
“The Ulster-Scots language comes from my part of the world and there are brilliant opportunities to get work made in that register,” he said.
“There are enough people already who are too interested in the politics of it but this is more of a personal, cultural thing.
“What I was keen to do was make a prestigious Ulster-Scots drama, like the Welsh language crime drama Hinterland.
“If we want to represent that culture and language, we need to find a fresh take and engage with people who speak it and those who don’t even know they are speaking it.”
The drama centres around a soldier/detective who is sent to Ballymoney by the Crown to carry out a census of the townspeople. Plots from Ulster-Scots ballads come to life for various characters against a backdrop of murder.
“There was an Ulster-Scots film made called Stumpy’s Brae by Chris Baugh, but this will be the first TV series of its kind,” said Glass.
“Crime drama is so popular because there’s something really juicy and thrilling about trying to work out who the bad guy is.
“There are some great crime dramas coming out of Northern Ireland but Sang Toon will be very different.”
Glass’ recent project Little Kingdom, a wartime drama set in Slovakia, explores how far people will go to survive in challenging times — a theme he also looks at in his RTE Storyland short drama, A Sign of Things, set in Carrickfergus.
He also co-wrote the screenplay for the feature, Lies We Tell, starring Keitel and Byrne.
“That was an amazing experience,” he said. “If you’d told me at age 15 that I’d be working with Harvey Keitel someday, I never would’ve believed it.”
And he said that he was “honoured” to have been accepted as a member of BAFTA.
“I’m a Northern Irish writer telling Northern Irish stories so to be part of the BAFTA voting panel now is hugely significant,” he said.