‘Exactly the same, and completely different’: how the Beyond Paradise team created a Death in Paradise spinoff

Dylan Llewellyn as PC Kelby Hartford, Zahra Ahmadi as DS Esther Williams, Kris Marshal as Humphrey Goodman, Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd, and Felicity Montagu as Margo Martins in Beyond Paradise, stood around the Shipton Abbott harbour. They’re in black and white, with a light blue filter over the background (Credit: BBC / Red Planet Pictures / Todd Anthony / NationalWorld Graphics)Dylan Llewellyn as PC Kelby Hartford, Zahra Ahmadi as DS Esther Williams, Kris Marshal as Humphrey Goodman, Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd, and Felicity Montagu as Margo Martins in Beyond Paradise, stood around the Shipton Abbott harbour. They’re in black and white, with a light blue filter over the background (Credit: BBC / Red Planet Pictures / Todd Anthony / NationalWorld Graphics)
Dylan Llewellyn as PC Kelby Hartford, Zahra Ahmadi as DS Esther Williams, Kris Marshal as Humphrey Goodman, Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd, and Felicity Montagu as Margo Martins in Beyond Paradise, stood around the Shipton Abbott harbour. They’re in black and white, with a light blue filter over the background (Credit: BBC / Red Planet Pictures / Todd Anthony / NationalWorld Graphics) | BBC / Red Planet Pictures / Todd Anthony / NationalWorld Graphics
Actors Kris Marshall, Sally Bretton, Dylan Llewelleyn, and Felicity Montagu, as well as producer Tim Key and writer Tony Jordan, offer us a behind the scenes look at the making of Beyond Paradise

“Tim’s brief was perfect,” says writer Tony Jordan, explaining how Death in Paradise producer Tim Key first raised the possibility of a spinoff. “It’s got to be exactly the same as Death in Paradise, and completely different. Which is what every writer wants to hear!”

The cast and crew of Beyond Paradise – actors Kris Marshall, Sally Bretton, Dylan Llewelleyn, and Felicity Montagu, as well as producer Tim Key and writer Tony Jordan – have assembled to speak to NationalWorld and other press about their new Death in Paradise spinoff, launching on BBC One on Friday 24 February.

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Beyond Paradise revisits DI Humphrey Goodman and his fiancée Martha Lloyd, last seen in 2017 leaving Saint Marie to start a new life in London. Now, nearly six years later, they’ve moved to Shipton Abbot, a small village in Devonshire where Martha was born and raised. As Martha works toward setting up the restaurant she’s always dreamed of, Humphrey joins the local police force – with his eccentric methods of deduction baffling the rest of the squad almost as much as each new mystery.

“We were sitting around in the office, and I think somebody said ‘I wonder what happened to Humphrey and Martha?” remembers Jordan. “Because the audience really loved that whole relationship, and we – just generally, as people that work on Death in Paradise – we were genuinely interested in what happened next. That’s why [the spinoff] was made, because it was a ready-made story.”

“When we were watching Kris and Sally working together in Guadeloupe, we could just see that they were such a compelling couple,” adds Key. “It felt really special, what we were seeing, and the thought of getting them back together again on screen was really appealing.”

“It wasn’t a lightning bolt,” says Kris Marshall, who played Humphrey Goodman on Death in Paradise for three years from 2014 to 2017. “As with any process of making TV or film, it’s quite a long, drawn-out process: the idea is mooted, and you don’t want to get your hopes up, and then it goes through a process of commissioning of scripts. Tony Jordan is such a great writer, and his vision for characters so unique, that it was really when those first scripts came through and we knew we were commissioned, that was when it got really exciting.”

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“It’s lovely for them to be back,” says Sally Bretton, who first appeared on Death in Paradise in 2016. “I really like Martha, she’s very warm and driven, but she overthinks things, so she’s interesting to play.”

Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd and Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman in Beyond Paradise, leaning in to kiss each other (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie)Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd and Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman in Beyond Paradise, leaning in to kiss each other (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie)
Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd and Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman in Beyond Paradise, leaning in to kiss each other (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie) | Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie

What was their starting point, then? How do you go about making a spinoff of one of television’s most loved programmes – what does it actually mean for Beyond Paradise to be exactly the same as but completely different from Death in Paradise?

“We tried to look at what the DNA [of Death in Paradise] was,” explains Jordan. “The thing about Death in Paradise is [that] the team itself feels like a family – and actually, just as a viewer, I think you want to be there, I think you want to go and sit in Catherine’s bar at the end of an episode of that. And so that was the first thing we wanted to create [on Beyond Paradise] was that team. That’s why this amazing team, the team, that’s exactly why they were constructed in that way to make you feel like a family.”

Humphrey and Martha, of course, viewers will be familiar with from their time on Death in Paradise. But what about the new members of the Shipton Abbott squad?

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“I play PC Kelby Hartford - a local lad who grew up in Shipton Abbott, a close-knit community where everybody knows everyone. Which means a lot of criminals they catch, he knows!” says Dylan Llewellyn, who you’ll recognise from Derry Girls and Big Boys. “I’m just buzzing about it really, because it’s such a great project. The scripts were amazing, they made me smile, and it’s just great to be a part of the show.”

“I was absolutely thrilled,” agrees Felicity Montagu, who plays Margo Martins [office support person]. “I’m absolutely crazy about Sanditon, which was [produced by] Red Planet as well – so I wanted to get to speak to the executive producer about it! That’s a joke.”

“The characters came first,” says Key when asked if they had Llewellyn and Montagu in mind when creating Kelby and Margo. “Tony created all of these characters, and we talked about the feel of the show and the feeling of that team. Then we started meeting with people - but there were some names that, when they get mentioned, you’re just like, ‘right, I can’t get past that now, that’s who we want it to be’.”

“Felicity was one of those people: she’s comedy royalty, and she’s a great actor. She’s Lynn from Alan Partridge! The minute she was suggested we were like, oh, she’d be amazing. And Dylan as well – I mean, obviously, we can’t claim to have discovered Dylan, but we were very lucky to get him. He does something very special in the show.”

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“Zara is incredible,” Key continues, talking about Zara Ahmadi’s portrayal of DS Esther Williams. “Zara, in some ways, I think she’s got the toughest job of all of them, because she’s got to stand alongside Humphrey, and find him really annoying and frustrating, but be likeable herself. It’d be very easy for the audience to take against somebody who’s not really getting on with the lead character, but she’s got such warmth, and she’s such a clever actor, and she’s really funny herself.

“The minute that we put her and Kris together in a room during that casting process, they just hit it off straightaway. They were together on a job once – it was small, I think she was in for one day – but they remembered each other. It was just great. Their casting tape was fantastic.”

“Zara is a real foil [to Kris],” says Llewellyn. “Her little reactions to him, it always gets laughs – like watching the premiere, Zara’s reactions always got laughs. I think that’s brilliant, she’s so talented.”

Zahra Ahmadi as DS Esther Williams, Dylan Llewellyn as PC Kelby Hartford, Felicity Montagu as Margo Martins, and Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman in Beyond Paradise, positioned around the desk in the Shipton Abbott police station (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie)Zahra Ahmadi as DS Esther Williams, Dylan Llewellyn as PC Kelby Hartford, Felicity Montagu as Margo Martins, and Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman in Beyond Paradise, positioned around the desk in the Shipton Abbott police station (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie)
Zahra Ahmadi as DS Esther Williams, Dylan Llewellyn as PC Kelby Hartford, Felicity Montagu as Margo Martins, and Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman in Beyond Paradise, positioned around the desk in the Shipton Abbott police station (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie) | Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie

Still, as much as they looked to what worked about Death in Paradise when making Beyond Paradise, the intent was never to duplicate the original outright.

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“What was really important with this show was to create a show in its own right, and not to just do a shadow of Death in Paradise,” insists Jordan. “Because much as we love it, Death in Paradise is a show that exists in his own right – everybody loves it, for good reason, but we wanted this to be a show that was worthy of his own place in the world. It’s a completely different show, one that is born in the same place, but it’s a show that was built with a little bit of integrity, and we wanted it to stand on his own.”

“But that process wasn’t about saying ‘what should we do to make it different?’ – it was about ‘what do we do to make it brilliant?’” he continues. “What do we do to make this the best show we can? We’re not trying to distance ourselves from anything, and we haven’t constructed beyond paradise based on what we do somewhere else. We’ve just literally said, how can we make the best show that we can? And, if anybody thinks this may be a cynical exercise, how can we prove wrong by making a really good show?”

“If you’re going to make the same show and put it in the UK, well, that’s not necessarily going to work,” suggests Marshall. “Or it might work, but it might be a bit lazy. So, it has to be really different. When I read the first script, I was like, wow, this is different. It’s completely different. It shares the same DNA, but it’s entirely unique – I just love the thought ‘what happens to them?’”

“It gave us an opportunity to dig into the lives of our characters in a way that… we do, in Death in Paradise, but it’s so tightly formatted in terms of the crime and the puzzle and the death in paradise, it’s not as easy to do that” says Key, drawing a distinction between the two shows. “We knew that we’d created a show that had the space and the scope to do that. Humphrey and Martha’s journey [is] about what their family is going to look like, and what they are as a couple and how that’s going to play out. We wanted to tell a truthful story about a couple of that age, and at that, at that place in their lives. I think that we’re telling a very real story, and doing it in our Death in Paradise kind of way.”

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“It’s a real love match with those two, they really do love each other,” says Bretton. “When we join them, they’ve been together five or six years. Life is more real: it’s not just that holiday romance, and they’ve lived through real things and supported each other through real things. The relationship has deepened, and it was just great to explore that.”

“It was also a joy to explore other areas of their life – the challenges and the personal issues they have to deal with,” says Marshall. “It was such a delight to see what happens when you undo that happy ever after box. You truss it up in a nice little bow, and then you put it away, and you go, ‘okay, well, that was that. That was the end of that.’ What happens when you undo it – what what’s it really like?”

Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman and Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd in Beyond Paradise, sharing a meal together at night (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie) Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman and Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd in Beyond Paradise, sharing a meal together at night (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie)
Kris Marshall as Humphrey Goodman and Sally Bretton as Martha Lloyd in Beyond Paradise, sharing a meal together at night (Credit: Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie) | Red Planet Pictures/Craig Hardie

Across its opening episode, Beyond Paradise demonstrates a range of tones, from lighter comic moments during investigations to quieter, more sensitive moments as it delves into Humphrey and Martha’s relationship . How do you balance that in a show like this?

“Well, I think when it comes to the sensitive stuff, you’ve got to play that as truthfully as you can,” says Bretton. “With stuff that has a lighter touch, you can be much more playful - and it does have that lovely humour running through it – but when it comes to the heavier stuff, you’ve just got to play it.”

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“I think we’re dealing with issues that, you know, a lot of people will find close to their heart,” says Marshall. “I think it’s important to represent those issues properly and sensitively, while still keeping it light-hearted, because deeply sensitive issues in real life can be and are lighthearted, because that’s how people deal with them. They’re still real, and they’re still lighthearted. In the grand scheme of the show, it’s a light hearted family show – dovetailing those two emotive differences is difficult, but I think Tony did it brilliantly.”

“I think that Kris and Sally bring something really magical to it,” says Key. “It just feels incredibly real and surprising: we’re able to do these amazingly odd gear shifts in our show, where we can have a lot of fun, and then we can do these sort of heartbreaking moments. That’s part of the joy of what we’re able to do here.”

“This is a story about what happens next. I think that the title of the show – ‘Beyond Paradise’ started out as a working title, but it became the name of the show – became our kind of calling card, you know? What happens after you’ve had your happily ever after ending? We just felt a responsibility to tell a really truthful story.”

Beyond Paradise begins on BBC One on Friday 24 February at 8pm. You can read more of our TV features here.

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