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Oscar Winner Simon Beaufoy Joins ‘Acute, Urgent and Funny’ Tale of Climate Change ‘S.O.L.’ Created by the Late Ruth McCance (EXCLUSIVE)

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Oscar-winning writer Simon Beaufoy – behind “Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours” or “The Full Monty” – has joined “S.O.L.” 

The six-episode thriller, presented at Berlinale’s Co-Pro Series and developed with TV4, is produced by Warp Films (UK) and Rainy Days (Sweden). It was created by Ruth McCance. Diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, she died in December, aged 53. 

“Ruth had written a pilot episode script and outlines for the remaining five episodes,” explained Peter Carlton, who produces with Piodor Gustafsson and Andrea Calderwood.  

“It had always been our intention to bring on another writer to work alongside her. When we knew Ruth was dying, we spoke about the future of the project. We felt we would like to complete the work she had started in her honor and for her kids.” 

“With her blessing, we are doing just that. We were able to tell her it had been selected for Berlinale.” 

Beaufoy was an “obvious first choice,” Carlton stated. 

“Simon met Ruth when she was head of development at Pathé, many moons ago, they worked on his feature ‘The Darkest Light’ [co-directed with Bille Eltringham]. They became and remained firm friends, and when Ruth turned to screenwriting, they would exchange stories of writers’ woes and wins.” 

In the character-based show, a rich man with good intentions – Stefan Alström Jnr – wants to make his mark on history by saving the world. Instead, he almost ends it by threatening to start a world war.

“I wrestled with climate change in fiction 15 years ago on [miniseries] ‘Burn Up’ and decided, rather forlornly, that in the end, it’s an impossible subject. Nobody has proved me wrong since, until now,” Beaufoy told Variety

Andrea Calderwood, Peter Carlton and Piodor Gustafsson

“Here it is, that rarest of things: a tale of climate change that is acute, urgent, funny and makes you want to watch more. Kubrick’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ echoes through the beautiful absurdities of Ruth’s vision and that’s as good a comparison as it gets. If I’m writing something that makes me laugh, I guarantee Ruth is too.” 

“S.O.L.” is currently beginning the process of attaching director, lead cast and is in discussions with other financiers. 

“It’s a darkly funny thriller about climate change, money and power, but it’s not finger-wagging, ‘worthy’ or hopelessly depressing. It’s clear-eyed, tense and the stakes are massive – and it’s funny. It’s all too human,” added Carlton. 

The title of the show refers to “Stratospheric Opacity Level”: a device designed to increase the opacity of cloud cover in the stratosphere and shield the Earth from the sun. 

“It’s also a reference to Stefan wanting to step out from his father’s shadow and take his own ‘place in the sun.’ And, of course, it didn’t escape our notice that ‘S.O.L.’ is a colloquial acronym for ‘Shit Out of Luck’,” noted Carlton.

Beaufoy added: “Ruth did a hell of a lot of research, into the climate science of course but also into the whole idea of wealthy ‘philanthropy’ and real-life billionaires who purport to ‘save the world’ – like Bill Gates wanting to eradicate malaria, for example – yet whose very wealth is contributing to its problems. Like Gates, again, with his private jets.” 

That being said, McCance was even more interested in another dilemma: If democratic governments aren’t doing anything, should an individual act instead, especially if they have the means to do it?

“If billionaires invest in their own pet projects with no accountability, it’s profoundly undemocratic and may have unforeseen disastrous consequences. That’s why it works so well that Stefan is Swedish – he comes from a culture of social responsibility, where people imagine they can be rich but somehow ‘responsibly rich’,” he observed. 

“But it’s not just billionaires we are referencing: it’s all of us.” 

Conceived as a high-end limited series – “with star cast potential,” said Carlton – “S.O.L.” might continue “if there’s an appetite for it.”   

“There could certainly be more to explore with these characters. Ruth had so much she wanted to say with this story.” 

As the industry keeps wondering how to persuade commissioners to be bolder, a big, “possibly provocative” premise and characters viewers can identify with might be the way to go.

“Television is a writer, and therefore character-driven medium. All the recent hit shows are about human beings with all their foibles. With the best ones, whether they are on a large scale like ‘Succession’ or ‘The White Lotus,’ or intimate like ‘Normal People’ or ‘One Day,’ are about people we can either enjoy identifying with or being appalled by,” he added. 

“It’s because of the characters’ flaws that people love them and Stefan leaps off the page,” agreed Beaufoy. 

“These are Ruth’s ideas and Ruth’s characters that I will honor in the writing, but I also bring my own voice,” he noted, while the team shared a statement from McCance as well. 

“History famously repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Now, it seems we’re trying to cram it all in at once,” she stated. 

“Tragic farce is the defining tone of our times. I wanted to tell a story about a person trying to do the ‘right thing’ and discovering it’s not so easy.”