Kalpana Kalpana (Editor)

Shooting the Past

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Directed by
Stephen Poliakoff

Country of origin
United Kingdom

Written by
Stephen Poliakoff

Adrian Johnston

Timothy Spall Lindsay Duncan Liam Cunningham

Shooting the Past is a television drama by Stephen Poliakoff, produced by TalkBack Productions for BBC Two and first shown in 1999. It was TalkBack's first drama production, the company being mainly known for its television comedy work. Focused around a photographic library threatened by closure, and the lives of its eccentric staff, it featured Timothy Spall and Lindsay Duncan, was awarded Best Drama Series at the Royal Television Society Awards of the same year and received other international awards, including the Prix Italia.



Shooting the Past delves into a world quite separate from modern life, and demonstrates that the preservation of the past, in order to tell the extraordinary stories of the lives of ordinary people, can be astonishingly powerful and revealing. The Fallon Photo Library is a gigantic collection of photographs kept in a huge Victorian mansion/factory. The staff is minimal and made up of shy eccentrics led by manager Marilyn Truman (Duncan) and head librarian Oswald Bates (Spall). An American company buys the building, planning a complete remodeling and modernisation to turn it into a business school. The company president, Christopher Anderson (Cunningham), had informed Oswald by fax months earlier that he was coming and to have the building empty and ready, but Oswald fails to pass on the news, planning a "strike" of sorts. On their arrival, having expected the library of ten million photographs to have been disposed of and the building evacuated, Anderson tells the staff that the majority of the collection must be destroyed if they cannot sell it. However, the staff members believe that the collection must be kept in its entirety, not broken up or sold to different buyers.

To prove the value of their library, the group presents Anderson with intriguing stories put together by researching photos from all over the collection. The research was largely by Oswald and presented by Marilyn, who emphasizes that these photos came from all over the collection and that Oswald spent months studying details to piece the stories together. Against orders from his superiors, Anderson gives them time to find a buyer. However, due to the size of the collection there is little interest. Marilyn has to learn to "sell" herself and the collection, and manages to make a successful pitch to an advertising company, but as most of the collection is in black and white the potential sale falls through. Meanwhile, having alienated Anderson to the point that he's been banned from the building, Oswald attempts suicide, leaving notes on a final story. Marilyn attempts to think as Oswald would and lays out the pictures – telling the story of Anderson's own grandmother. Finally convinced that the collection should be saved and kept whole, Anderson finds a buyer in America – another photo collection – who will accept all ten million pictures.


The collection's photos, as seen in this series, are drawn from Britain's greatest picture library, the Hulton Collection, which had its origins with the photos taken for Picture Post Magazine (1938–57). At least two of Bert Hardy's photos, for example, can be seen in this series, including his view of a panda "taking a picture" of Mr. Hardy's son Michael. The Hulton Collection is part of Getty Images, the world's largest picture library as of early 2008.

The two stories which staff members present to Mr. Anderson are fictional accounts created for this film. According to Poliakoff on the commentary track of the DVD, Lily Katzmann, the Jewish girl, was played by Emma Sackville. Hettie, the Irish musician and Anderson's grandmother, was played by a model whom Poliakoff did not name.


  • Marilyn Truman – Lindsay Duncan
  • Oswald Bates – Timothy Spall
  • Christopher Anderson – Liam Cunningham
  • Veronica – Billie Whitelaw
  • Spig – Emilia Fox
  • Nick – Blake Ritson
  • Garnett – Arj Barker
  • Styeman – Andy Serkis
  • References

    Shooting the Past Wikipedia

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