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Plunkett on TV: small time crooks win big on Channel 4’s The Curse

Channel 4’s comic caper The Curse feels like something special, the creation of a comedy ‘supergroup’ formed by the BAFTA-winning teams behind Murder in Successville and People Just Do Nothing.

Between them, the creators of two of the most lauded comedies of the last decade have conjured a compelling tale of hapless small time crooks who accidentally stumble across £30 million of gold when a heist goes dramatically right.


A genre thriller set in early ‘80s London, The Curse manages to be both outrageously funny and a gripping crime drama in its own right. Which - not unlike the challenge of how exactly you cash in on 7,000 illicit gold bars - is no easy feat.

Murder in Successville's Tom Davis and James de Frond had long discussed doing something in the crime genre and were working on a story based on a real life gold heist in 1982.

It turned out the People Just Do Nothing trio of Allan Mustafa, Hugo Chegwin and Steve Stamp had been thinking along similar lines.

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‘Yeah, Tom [Davis] and James [De Frond] came to us with this idea,’ says Mustafa, who stars as greasy spoon owner Albert Fantoni opposite Emer Kenny as his wife Tash.

‘Funnily enough, me and Hugo [Chegwin] were already talking about doing a different East End geezer robbery story, so it struck a chord straight away. It’s a fish-out-of-water tale about blokes getting way out of their depth. To me, that’s intrinsically funny.’

‘We were wanting to collaborate with the boys, we’re big fans of them and we’d hung out at a few awards things,’ remembers De Frond, director and co-writer on The Curse.

‘We’re all from similar backgrounds and have a common sense of humour and love for comedy. There are not many comedians out there who enjoy semi-improvising around a script and Tom [Davis] is the king of that and the boys were fantastic at it. It was a joy.’

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With all five collaborators writing and executive producing the show (and all but De Frond starring in it) it made for some lively Zoom meetings at a time when the traditional ‘writers’ room’ was off limits because of the pandemic.

‘Zooms are awkward anyway but when you have five people trying to be funny at the same time it can be tricky to manage,’ says De Frond. ‘You need someone to manage it and get the best out of it, to keep an eye on story and structure. I’m the sensible one,’ he laughs. ‘I’m dad.’

Introducing the show at a launch event this week, Channel 4’s head of comedy Fiona McDermott described The Curse as a story of ‘greed, trust, betrayal, friendship, class [and] inequality, all coming together with some phenomenal moustaches’.

Some of the cast’s facial hair is indeed quite something, part of a loving and fantastically done recreation of the early ‘80s which includes a soundtrack featuring the likes of Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, and The Clash.

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Filming took place in Liverpool partly because it was easier and cheaper but mostly because unlike London it has a plethora of accessible exterior locations that can still pass for 1982.

Key for McDermott was making sure it was a ‘genuine mix of comedy and caper’, a show that would ‘make us gasp as much as it makes us laugh’ with a proper sense of jeopardy.

‘It’s very ambitious to try to make a comedy thriller,’ she says. ‘There are genuine twists and turns in this and that’s hard in 24 minute [episodes]. It’s a really delicate sophisticated balance that belies the comic overtones of it.’

De Frond says the team put a few rules in place to help maintain that balance.

‘The guys are where the comedy is but the threat and the jeopardy needs to feel real,’ he says. ‘The cops and the real gangsters are all played by fantastic drama actors and tonally that really helped.

‘If you went comedy with the gangsters and the police then it would all feel a bit silly and daft. But when the boys are the daft ones and everyone around them feels real, that’s when you get moments that feel genuinely scary. And when you have idiots in those scenarios, the more they squirm and the funnier it is.’

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While Channel 4 has so far commissioned one six episode run, De Frond already has plans for two more series in which some of the characters take refuge in Spain and start getting involved in cocaine, the mafia and even the world’s most famous drug lord, Pablo Escobar, as events spiral even further out of control.

Series two would take place in the mid to late ‘80s - expect those moustaches to be gone by then - and series three in the rave scene of the early ‘90s. But right now it’s all about series one.

‘What we are trying to do with our shows across the board is just work with the most distinguished and brilliant British talent and this collaboration falls right into that,’ says Channel 4’s McDermott.

‘There’s alchemy at the heart of the process and when it happens it’s brilliant. It felt like there’s magic here.’

Made by Shiny Button Productions, a Banijay UK company

The Curse begins on Channel 4 at 10pm on Sunday 6th February and will be available to watch in its entirety on All4.

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