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Interview: Sarah Solemani on Creating the Jewish Content of ‘Ridley Road’

PBS’ Ridley Road brings the incredible efforts of the 62 Group, which worked actively to combat the spread of neo-Nazism in London in the 1960s, to life. The four-episode limited series, based on the 2014 novel by Jo Bloom, features newcomer Agnes O’Casey as Vivien Epstein, a Jewish woman who discovers that her old boyfriend Jack (Tom Varey) is working undercover to get close to Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear), leader of the local neo-Nazi branch and decides to join him in the fight.

Awards Radar had the chance to speak with writer and executive producer Sarah Solemani about what spoke to her most from the source material and what she felt was important to include. On featuring Jewish content that might not be understood by all audiences, Solemani explained:

“I think because the kind of pulse of the show is this thriller genre of trying to infiltrate and trying to defeat, I could actually get away with Jewish references that didn’t need explanation because they’re not plot-driven, so, for example, the lighting of the candles on Shabbat, and the blessing of the child by the mother on Shabbat, you don’t need to know exactly the reasons behind that prayer to know, oh, this is something a Jewish family does each week.”

On the relevance of Jewish actors playing Jewish characters, Solemani commented:

“It’s an interesting debate. Agnes O’Casey is a patrilineal Jew. Her Jewish line goes through her grandfather and her father. For me, that was enough, and her relationship with her faith as being sort of inside and outside is something I relate to as a patrilineal Jew who ended up doing a formal conversion. But I know that it did feel problematic to people who didn’t understand her heritage. It’s an ensemble cast that are a mixture of Jewish people and non-Jewish people. For me, casting is a huge issue. It was actually more about class than about faith…for me, bringing working-class actors onto the screen and giving them opportunities, that probably led my casting decisions more than any racial, religious, ethnic heritage.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

Ridley Road is available to watch on PBS.

photo credit: David James

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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