EXCLUSIVE: The award-winning team behind 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room are to tell the story of the 7/7 London bombings in a BBC docuseries, while the BBC has greenlit a definitive history of Volodymyr Zelensky from the makers of The Elon Musk Show.
7/7: Three Weeks In July [working title] will document the day plus aftermath of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in British history, which took place in the English capital almost 20 years ago – killing 52 people when three trains and a bus were blown up by suicide bombers.
9/11 director Adam Wishart’s new indie The Slate Works is producing for the BBC. Inside The President’s War Room, Wishart’s 2021 BBC/Apple TV+ co-pro that told the story of the hours after the Twin Tower attacks via interviews with the likes of George W. Bush, won a BAFTA and an RTS Award.
Key players being interviewed for the 7/7 doc are yet to be confirmed but BBC Head of History Commissioning Simon Young said Wishart is “working hard on access.”
“Inside the President’s War Room turned the cameras the other way and it was so interesting to see how the president and his inner circle dealt with the crisis,” Young told Deadline. “We are understanding how historical figures, some of whom are polarizing, have to make really difficult decisions within minutes. You draw some empathy from having the opportunity to analyze the decisions they are taking.”
Forging a documentary series about an event that remains so raw in the public consciousness is fraught with sensitivity and Young said this will be negated by engagement with “all the communities who had a stake in what happened.”
“There are questions over how to protect a country and make the right decisions and this is fascinating at a time when the role of the police and security services are under scrutiny,” he added. “As long as we have a really strong purpose, recognize emotions and understand key stakeholders, we can tell powerful stories that give us important lessons.”
Unveiling a five-strong history slate that shows how the BBC has “fundamentally modernized and revolutionized retrospective storytelling,” Young also revealed Zelensky from Elon Musk Show maker 72 Films.
The show will set itself apart from previous docs about the comedian-turned-Ukrainian President by spotlighting his upbringing in the former Soviet Union and early career. It will move from Zelensky’s childhood as part of a Jewish family touched by the Holocaust to a presidential campaign that began as a joke via a career as a romcom movie star and the voice of Paddington Bear in Ukraine.
“It’s been an extraordinary trajectory,” said Young. “Lots of Zelensky docs have focused on the last few years but we wanted to take a deeper dive. We want to understand how someone like Zelensky can rise to power in the context of the fall of the Soviet Union.”
In this vein, Zelensky will be similar in scope to The Elon Musk Show, Young added, and he credited Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story indie 72 for being one of a number of British doc producers to have opened up new methods of modern storytelling.
While Netflix is often credited with bringing documentaries to the next level, Young said the BBC has led the way on the three-to-four-part box-setted history doc that has become a standard-bearer. He praised another 72 show, the BBC’s A Dangerous Dynasty: House of Assad, for “leading the way in terms of archive and first-person testimony storytelling.”
Meanwhile, Young has co-commissioned a documentary on Julius Caesar with PBS, which will “tell the story of the death of a former democracy in Ancient Rome at a time when democracy is under threat across the world.” Featuring contributions from historians, military leaders and political operatives, BBC Studios’ Julius Caesar: Rise of the Roman Empire [working title] will tell of the complex power dynamics that played out in Ancient Rome in forensic detail.
“This is the opportunity to understand the career trajectory of an archetypal dictator,” added Young. “There are fascinating lessons to learn.”
Rounding out the slate are Columbia – The Final Flight [working title] from Louis Theroux’s Mindhouse Productions, which was revealed by Deadline several weeks ago, and the latest season of David Olusoga’s social history format A House Through Time, which will tell the story of apartment blocks in London and Berlin across three decades.
The BBC is facing budget pressure and Director General Tim Davie is slashing 1,000 hours worth of shows per year but Young was nonetheless bullish about history docs’ future prospects.
“Scale is almost more important than hours,” he added. “The shows we commission need to get noticed. What’s brilliant at the moment is that we are in this rich vein of history programing.”