David Caffrey, the lead director on Whitstable Pearl, talks to TV Drama about the Acorn TV detective drama, produced by Buccaneer Media and distributed internationally by Cineflix Rights.
Whitstable Pearl is both the title of the series and the name of the restaurant owned by its intrepid local celebrity protagonist, Pearl Nolan (Kerry Godliman), in Whitstable, where a suspected murder exposes the seaside town’s darker undercurrents. When Pearl, who’s recently formed her own detective agency, discovers the body of close family friend Vinny, she launches herself into the investigation. At first butting heads with new Kent police chief DCI Mike McGuire (Howard Charles), Pearl finds common ground with the detective as a second murder all but confirms their belief that Vinny was killed.
“He’s a bit of a hard-nosed cop from London and the small town thing doesn’t really suit him very much,” says David Caffrey, the lead director on Whitstable Pearl. “And with that, we end up with a little bit of conflict and that’s how our dynamic duo of detective Mike and investigator Pearl cross paths.”
The Buccaneer Media-produced detective drama, which recently bowed on Acorn TV in many international territories, including North America, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K., mixes comedy in with its darker themes through its focus on the goings-on of the inhabitants of the small fishing village that novelist Julie Wassmer set The Whitstable Pearl Mystery and Disappearance at Oare books that the series is based on. “It’s really about small-town politics,” says Caffrey. “It’s about the attitude of locals to people who are referred to as ‘blow-ins’ coming through from London. Julie’s got a lot of good comedic ways of addressing those particular issues that she would have known from living in Whitstable for a long time—about people who’ve moved from London down to the coast and the attitude the locals have to those types of people. And she brings a nice, fun, black comedy to that particular element of Whitstable.”
It was Øystein Karlsen, the creator of the show, who wrote the first few scripts for the series, adapting Wassmer’s stories and characters for the screen. “He wanted to work with Julie’s novels and then bring in a sort of Scandi noir quality,” says Caffrey. “He certainly did it with Marcella and now he’s done it with this. It’s a lot more lighthearted, [but] it’s not as lighthearted as some other shows. It’s a little bit darker than that. [Karlsen] worked very closely for the last few years developing that with Tony Wood and Anna Burns at Buccaneer Media.”
Karlsen was also set to direct the first episode of Whitstable Pearl, but the global pandemic and a scheduling conflict prevented him from being able to, which paved the way for Caffrey’s involvement in the series. Karlsen “was working on a show in his native Norway and he couldn’t get over because of the Covid-19 restrictions,” Caffrey explains. “I had worked with the show’s producer, Guy Hescott, on a previous series. He asked me if I was available and I said yes I was, and that’s how I got to meet the whole team at Buccaneer Media.”
Distributed internationally by Cineflix Rights, Whitstable Pearl has quite a few ingredients that give it its global appeal—perhaps most notably its mix of Scandi noir themes and comedic notes. “It’s not as dark as Scandi noir and it’s not as light as sort of a cozy crime story-of-the-week thing,” explains Caffrey. “It has a nice little dark edge to it. The two lead actors, Kerry Godliman and Howard Charles, are both very likable characters in the show.”
Godliman, who has a background as a stand-up comedian and stars alongside Ricky Gervais in Netflix’s After Life, has “a Frances McDormand quality to her,” says Caffrey. “I think she’s a sublime actress and has a really lovely comical edge to her as well. She and Howard, along with Øystein’s writing, and hopefully my direction and that of Jon Jones, hopefully all of that together makes for a fun show to watch.”