Skins alums Jess Brittain and Bryan Elsley talk to TV Drama about Clique, a new drama series centered on two childhood friends and their experiences in college.
TV outlets around the world are looking for scripted fare that will attract those elusive young adults. The new six-part drama Clique, a co-production of BBC Studios and Balloon Entertainment for BBC Three in association with all3media international, not only targets young viewers with its story set around a university in Edinburgh, but its mystery element also appeals to viewers of all ages.
Created and written by Skins alum Jess Brittain, Clique focuses on two childhood friends, Georgia and Holly, and their experiences as freshmen at university. When asked about the genesis of the project, Brittain explains, “It was a personal project because it [came] out of my own time at university, having had a sort of weird and not stereotypically amazing uni experience. I was slightly thrown by that and perhaps a bit shell-shocked, since you expect to have the best years of your life at uni.
“The intensity of that feeling had been hanging around in my mind for a while,” she continues, “and, once you are out of uni and start talking to people, it’s quite common for them to say, Actually I didn’t like it much either.” To her dismay, when talking to younger people, Brittain realized that the university experience, so intense and pressurized, was getting even worse for undergraduates. “It felt like a great opportunity to unpack some of my personal stuff while still nodding to the change that had happened since I had graduated.”
In Clique, Georgia gets entangled with a group of girls in a class led by professor Jude McDermid, who offers prestigious internships to top female students. Holly becomes suspicious of this group, especially since Georgia’s behavior gets increasingly erratic. In an effort to help her friend, Holly follows Georgia into this circle of alpha girls and into a seductive world of parties attended by high-end businesspeople. The surprising twist in the series comes with a sudden death.
Brittain examines feminism today and the compromises young women must make in the name of ambition. “Certainly I wanted Clique to be about a frustration with the strictness of third-wave feminism, and my peers and I felt very much like we needed to toe a very specific line and there was less and less space for controversial thinking. Clique was a reaction against that in a very extreme TV-drama way.”
She adds, “With Jude, the character elicits a very strong response and a very diverse response as well, which I’m very pleased about because she doesn’t represent my views on feminism but she sparks quite a lively debate, and that is definitely what I really wanted to do with Clique—open up some conversation in a world that started to feel like you couldn’t speak up openly about things [having] to do with being a woman.”
Casting these characters that Brittain saw so clearly in her head was a challenge. “It’s tricky because it’s sort of a process of grieving. You have this very specific image in your mind, and then you are presented with an incredibly talented person who is not what you’re thinking of at all. But then they make the character their own, and it actually becomes something really great. We really struggled to cast Holly, the protagonist. We looked everywhere. It’s a very [difficult] character because she’s unfathomable and un-put-downable in a way, so it’s quite difficult to coach actors who are auditioning for it on what specifically she is about. Then in the end, very strangely, the first block director’s brother was at a wedding where [Synnove Karlsen] was singing. It was as random as that! He watched her and said, There is something very interesting about that girl. She had never acted before. She had just started Guildhall drama school in London so was very new to the world. She is incredibly talented, so that was serendipitous in a way.”
Brittain is the sister of Jamie Brittain, who co-created Skins, and daughter of Bryan Elsley, co-creator of Skins and a founder of Balloon Entertainment. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the beloved youth drama Skins. Elsley also serves as an executive producer on Clique.
Of doing another young-adult drama, Elsley says, “I think it came about by chance. It was what Jess wanted to write, and I liked that it was a very pure and simple idea. At Balloon, we don’t have a focus on youth programming or young adult, but we do have an appreciation of it. We like a well-made young-adult show because I think in many ways the young-adult arena is where a lot of the interesting television is being made. We didn’t specifically set out to meet a YA brief; we just followed the grain of Jess’s writing and that’s where it ended up.”
Clique debuted in the U.K. this spring, and there’s a second season in development. Sold by all3media international, the series has also been picked up by, among other broadcasters, Pop in the U.S.