Hermione Norris, Suranne Jones, Oona Chaplin to star in BBC1 drama ‘The Ark’

Cast announced for Sarah Phelps’ new First World War drama series.

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*UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the series name change from The  Ark to The Crimson Field*

Hermione Norris (Spooks, Cold Feet), Suranne Jones (Scott And Bailey, The Secret Of Crickley Hall), Oona Chaplin (The Hour, Quantum Of Solace), Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey, Scott And Bailey), Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave, An Angel At My Table) and Marianne Oldham (WPC 56) have joined the cast of new six-part, BBC One First World War drama, The Crimson Field (formerly The Ark).

Created and written by Sarah Phelps – who is “bouncing off the walls with excitement at having such an extraordinary talented cast” – will tell the Great War’s untold stories from a tented field hospital on the coast of France. The hospital is a frontier: between the battlefield and home front, but also between the old rules, hierarchies, class distinctions and a new way of thinking.

When Kitty Trevelyan (Chaplin), Rosalie Berwick (Oldham) and Flora Marshall arrive as the hospital’s first volunteer nurses and struggle to be accepted by the established medical team. The girls are flung headlong into a world for which nothing and nobody could have prepared them. Kitty is escaping a traumatic past and her sharp tongue can both bewitch and antagonise those around her. For Rosalie, having failed to become a wife or mother this new opportunity means everything and Flora may look too young for the job but she’ll sure as hell make up for it with enthusiasm. However, it’s a new nurse Joan Livesey (Jones), disarming and spirited, who appears to be concealing the deepest darkest secret.

Oona Chaplin said: “‘The War To End All Wars’ – unfortunately that wasn’t the case. We keep fighting each other and committing horrific acts of violence. Although the technology of war may be different, the people have hardly changed, which Sarah Phelps has captured here so beautifully. In The Ark we follow men and women on their journey of survival, their struggle with meaning and love, and the small victories that mean so much. In this ensemble of colourful characters, Kitty is cut-throat, intelligent, tormented and wild. I can’t wait to start filming.”

Suranne Jones commented: “This is my first period drama and I am so excited at the prospect of filming a First World War series set on a frontline hospital. It’s an important period in history not just because of the war but because it was a transitional period for women, liberated in some respect but still shackled by the conventions and hierarchies of the past.

“Sarah Phelps really gets to the beating heart of a story and gives very strong images and weight to her characters. For my role as Joan she has created a nurse with a very independent and modern outlook who is much more interested in her patients than protocol. I am really looking forward to getting started and it will be great to work once again with director David Evans.”

The hospital staff are led by the able partnership of Lt Col Brett (Doyle) and the formidable Matron Carter (Norris). They are assisted by enigmatic Sister Quayle (Fox) and two surgeons Captains Miles Hesketh-Thorne and Thomas Gillan. Miles and Thomas are about as different as two men could be. Miles, the latest in a long line of medics is fulfilling his destiny as an army surgeon. Thomas has thwarted his destiny – a working class boy who’s fought hard to become a brilliant doctor. In spite of their differences the two men have become close colleagues and firm friends but that friendship will be tested when they both fall for the same woman.

Hermione Norris said: “The emotional and psychological impact World War One had on a generation and beyond has always held a deep fascination for me. Sarah Phelps has crafted a compelling script with rich and complex characters who really explore the depth and impact of love and loss in this heroic, yet tragic period in British history.

“It’s a privilege to be involved in this BBC production 100 years on, bringing the drama of World War One into the hearts and minds of this generation. ‘Lest we forget.'”

Supporting cast includes: Alice St Clair as Flora Marshall; Jack Gordon (Captain America: The First Avenger) will play Orderly Corporal Peter Foley), Alex Wyndham (Little Dorrit) as Captain Miles Hesketh-Thorne, Jeremy Swift (Oliver Twist, Gosford Park) as Quartermaster Sergeant Reggie Soper and Richard Rankin (Black Watch) as Captain Thomas Gillan.

Anne Pivcevic (The Lady Vanishes, Great Expectations) will executive produce with Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations, EastEnders). Annie Tricklebank (The Lady Vanishes, Lark Rise To Candleford) is producer and David Evans (Downton Abbey, One Night), Richard Clark (Doctor Who, Life On Mars) and Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Silent Witness, Single-Handed) will direct.

Filming of The Crimson Field will commence in August 2013 for transmission in 2014