“There’s no room for anything that isn’t truthful” in Gemma Chan’s gripping new drama
I Am Hannah, Tuesday 6 August, 10pm, Channel 4/HD (CH 104/141). Also available for 7 days in Catch Up > Channels > All 4
Short of giving viewers a degree of control à la Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, dramas don’t come much more immersive than writer/director Dominic Savage’s latest I Am… anthology series, and specifically, its thought-provoking finale, I Am Hannah.
With tight camerawork and free-flowing, realistic dialogue, complete with stuttering, interruptions and drawn-out pauses, I Am Hannah feels less like a drama and more like a piece of live theatre playing out on your screen.
It’s a thoroughly unique piece of television, but don’t just take our word for it! Before you get watching, check out everything you need to know about this cracking new drama from Gemma Chan and writer/director Dominic Savage…
If you enjoy this episode, you’ll love the previous two…
The idea for I Am… was inspired by a conversation Savage had with an actor about their favourite kind of stories, and the ones they would like to tell onscreen. Their ideas, he says, fascinated him, as “there was a degree of autobiography about it, that actor’s perspective, which created a story that was very in tune with them.”
This concept runs through Savage’s thoroughly engrossing anthology series. Focusing on issues faced by women today, each episode is co-created and co-scripted by the lead actors, lending an intriguing layer of authenticity to their performances.
The Vicky McClure-led opening episode I Am Nicola follows a woman seeking the perfect relationship while being trapped in a toxic one. The second, led by Samantha Morton, tells a gut-wrenching tale about a single mother battling to keep her family together, no matter the cost.
Gemma Chan’s story is similarly thought-provoking
Following a single woman facing pressure to settle down and have a child, Chan’s co-written episode was inspired by personal discussions between the actor and her friends. She recalls how, despite the prevalence of the issue among her peers, she “hadn’t seen anything onscreen that had approached it in this way.”
“Drawing from real life feels very personal,” Chan says, before insisting that while Hannah is “very much a character”, the story and Hannah’s experiences helped the actor to push herself “to go to difficult places and scenarios”.
It really does feel real
Savage’s preference for improvisation over scripted dialogue gives the I Am… series a real sense of truth, which “really allows you to completely inhabit your character and get completely immersed”, explains Chan.
“There’s a degree of the unknown about it,” Savage says of his approach. While he’s done scripted projects in the past, he feels “the certainty of it feels a little un-vibrant”, whereas “going into a scene where we know what we’re trying to achieve but don’t know how it’s going to be achieved feels wonderful”.
Chan admits this approach can feel “terrifying” at times, but concedes that it “allows you to be completely spontaneous and raw, and you can go to places you never thought you would go to”.
It’s a chance to see a rising star at her very, very best…
“There’s no room for anything that isn’t truthful [in I Am…],” Chan says, and it’s easy to see why. I Am Hannah is a rarity among TV shows; offering an immersive experience that truly makes you feel as though you’re shoulder to shoulder with the characters onscreen.
For a drama with such a strong, emotional message and unusual, improvisation-led production process to succeed, it requires a truly memorable performance from its leading star, which Chan absolutely delivers.
Every encounter feels as though it’s happening right in front of your eyes. A particularly poignant moment comes when Chan’s character Hannah delivers a sobering monologue deriding the fact that women have a finite amount of time with which to decide whether or not to have children, while men can seemingly wait forever.
Her performance in that scene alone is as good a reason as any to tune into this spectacular show, which will have you thinking long after you’ve switched off the telly.
I Am Hannah, Tuesday 6 August, 10pm, Channel 4/HD (CH 104/141)
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