BBC Ones new drama Ridley Road is an EastEnders reunion

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A stellar cast tell a fascinating story – based on real events – for BBC One's epic new period drama, Ridley Road, starting on Sunday night.

The series was actually filmed in Manchester, by Red, the local company known for some of the hottest dramas in recent years, with hits like Happy Valley, Last Tango In Halifax and It’s A Sin. But the northern city is doubling for the East End of the 1960s.

And when viewers tune in for the epic drama, about the rise of fascism and a group's battle to stamp it out, they'll spot several former residents of Albert Square among the cast!

The story tells of a group of Jewish men and women who formed the 62 Group, an anti-fascist resistance movement who weren’t afraid to use violence to defeat their enemy.

At the centre of the drama is Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey), a young Jewish hairdresser who becomes caught up in the group, and undertakes a brave and risky challenge on behalf of her community.

And for Sarah Solemani – the star of Him & Her and Bad Education who wrote and produced Ridley Road – the aim was to create a very watchable series that chimes with situations around the world today.

While Agnes O’Casey is a newcomer, Solemani wrote the story with many of her cast in mind. They include Eddie Marsan and Tracy-Ann Oberman as the leaders of the 62 group. Soap fans of course know Tracy-Ann as Dirty Den's second wife Chrissie Watts, who was part of a plot to finally kill off the Walford legend after he returned from the dead. And she has loved playing another very strong woman, Nancy Malinovsky in Ridley Road.

“Nancy is a brilliant character. She’s almost like the brains behind the 62 group, and takes on the role of mentoring Vivien," said Tracy-Ann, who is very proud of her own Jewish heritage, and is also loved by fans for her role as Valerie in the sitcom Friday Night Dinner.

Meanwhile Tamzin Outhwaite plays Barbara, a hairdresser whose mixed race son faces his own prejudice. Tamzin of course got her big break when she was cast as Melanie Healy in EastEnders, joining the show in 1998. Melanie spent an explosive four years on the Square, during which time she married both Ian Beale and Steve Owen. Tamzin later returned to the role in 2018, before finally being killed off in dramatic style in 2019.

And it's not just the setting of the East End that is familiar to Tamzin, it's the very neighbourhood after which the hard-hitting drama is named.

"Ridley Road as a market, was somewhere my mum used to take me all through my childhood and my dad knew lots of the market traders," reveals Tamzin. "The East End of London, Hackney, was somewhere I was very familiar with and Ridley Road market held a lot of fond memories for me."

Then there's Danny Hatchard, who plays Lee in the period drama. He's better known for his stint at Mick and Linda Carter's eldest, another Lee, a role he played from 2014-2020. The London born star admits he's too young to remember the time in which Ridley Road is set, but he's loved immersing himself in the era.

“Lee is lost, misguided, miseducated and a product of his hardship. London in the 60s was way before my time but after doing some research and being quite a fan of the era and music, I would say it was colourful, romantic, traditional and the epicentre of style.”

Even Eddie Marsan – the always busy actor recently seen in Deceit – has got in on the act when it comes to a turn in Walford, with a one-off appearance in 1996, years before he found fame with films like Vera Drake.

And if you wondering where you know Samantha Spiro from, who plays Vivien’s mother Liza, it might be from when she made a big impact with the 2000 drama Cor, Blimey! The TV film told the story of the relationship between stars Sid James and Barbara Windsor, while they starred together in the Carry On films.

It was universally acknowledged that Sam absolutely nailed it with her portrayal of the national treasure Barbara, who of course went on to find new fans in Walford as Peggy Mitchell.

So when a drama about Barbara's life was made in 2017, featuring Jaime Winstone as the young starlet Barbara, Sam returned to the role to play Barbara in later life.

Ridley Road, BBC1, Sunday, 9pm

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