David Morrissey has played a few policemen in his time. ‘This isn’t my first rodeo,’ he laughs.
‘But whether it’s the copper in Red Riding or the copper in Sherwood, you’re looking for people who have complexities, who have a past, who aren’t exactly what they seem. My character in Sherwood carries his damage like everyone in this series – they all have to find a way through a terrible situation.’
He’s not lying. Sherwood, the latest drama from Quiz writer James Graham, is a moving, sometimes harrowing excavation of resentments and rifts buried deep in the past.
When former miner Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong) is killed outside his house in a small Nottinghamshire town, there are fears that the murder may be connected to the divisions that tore the community apart back in the miners’ strike of 1984-85.
While his wife (Lesley Manville) grieves, the culprit takes his crossbow and goes to ground in Sherwood Forest, only for a second murder to provoke near-panic.
The local community – including Adeel Akhtar’s gentle train driver and Joanne Froggatt’s ambitious would-be Tory councillor – has to once again reckon with the fact that, unlike Gary, many of Nottinghamshire’s miners defied the picket lines to return to work.
It is Morrissey’s DCS Ian St Clair, a local with a lifelong commitment to community policing, who has to lead the manhunt alongside Robert Glenister’s Met officer; both men have their own difficult history with the events of four decades ago.
Astoundingly, Sherwood is loosely based on real events: in 2004, two unconnected murders – one involving a crossbow – took place in a quiet former mining community in Nottinghamshire.
Both killers laid low in Annesley Forest and the Met, still loathed in the area for heavy-handed policing of picket lines, was called in to assist with the manhunt.
‘If it had been presented to me as a piece of fiction where a man in Nottingham was shot by a bow and arrow and the perpetrator hid in Sherwood Forest, I’d think it was ridiculous,’ says Morrissey, whose character in the six-part series has to caution younger officers against any casual references to Robin Hood.
Liverpool born and bred, he found the drama reviving powerful memories of the strike itself.
‘Walking into the props room with all these “Coal Not Dole” stickers brought it all back to me,’ he says.
‘I remember going on endless marches. It was a very clear-cut debate: you were on the side of the striking miners. You were against the government. That was it for everyone I knew. There was a much more complex landscape in Nottinghamshire that I’d forgotten about. I had to re-educate myself.’
‘James presents a community that has to take a hard look at itself and does talk,’ adds Morrissey. ‘It’s about remembrance and forgiveness, acceptance and compromise. I’m not saying any of that’s an easy thing at all. But it’s important to talk and to feel you’re being heard.’
Sherwood is on BBC1 at 9pm on Monday.