Zoe Wanamaker, Miranda Richardson, and Downton Abbey's Phyllis Logan make up the leading ladies of one the hottest new series to hit our screens this year: Girlfriends.
Before you start imagining a gaggle of young girls gossiping behind the school walls - think again. This six-part comedy drama is all about the ‘sandwich generation' - generally, 50+ women who are juggling grown-up children, grandchildren, elderly parents, and busy careers and social lives. Sound familiar? Make sure to read on!
Zoe plays Gail Stanley, while Phyllis takes on the character of Linda Hutchinson. Miranda also plays the role of Sue Thackery. They're three best friends, all with very different lives, but with similar struggles and triumphs at their core.
While Gail is a busy family woman, reeling from a recent divorce and trying to keep up with a troubled son and an ageing mother, Sue Thackery is quite the opposite - a seemingly glamorous magazine editor enjoying (or is she?) a 30-year-long affair. And Linda is too a traditional family woman, with her husband and children at the heart of her home.But of course, things don't all play along that nicely in this new series, which is part comedy and part drama.
The six-part drama is written by celebrated writer Kay Mellor [In The Club, The Syndicate, Fat Friends], and in her words, is all about how these women "support one another at times in their lives when they need it most".
"I pride myself on the fact that I don't have loads and loads of girlfriends, but those that I have really matter to me," explained Mellor. "I think that's true of a lot of women; they have one or two or three close girlfriends who will support them and who are there for them. And that's what my new drama, Girlfriends, looks at.
"The characters are late fifties and early sixties, which is such a rich and interesting time for women. They have children, sometimes grandchildren, and often parents who are ageing."
So what do you need to know about Girlfriends ITV?
1. There's a dramatic death during the very first episode.Things start off happily enough, as one of the trio enjoys a glamorous cruise with her family. But disaster soon strikes, as someone suffers an untimely ending that kick-starts the rather unfortunate tone for the beginning of the episode. But keep your eyes peeled, because there's more to this mystery than meets the eye...
2. You'll recognise plenty of the cast [aside from Wanamaker, Logan and Richardson]
The series boasts a stellar line-up, and that's not including the three fabulous leading females! Chris Fountain returns to TV screens as Linda's older son, while Matt Lewis [Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter], makes his mark on primetime TV as Gail's troubled son, who has just got himself out of prison after a year-long stint.
Anthony Head [Merlin], also stars as Sue's boss and long-term love interest, while Paula Wilcox features as Carole, whose role becomes clear near the end of the first episode...
3. The show is pointedly focused on women in their mid-life - and for good reason
Kay Mellor revealed at a recent press screening that she intended to focus on women of a certain age, and at a certain point in their life, in order to show how important they are in society - a fact that may sometimes be missed.
She shared, "With me hitting the age I am, going through menopause, juggling things with my children and grandchildren...I realised that's how life is for people my age. And I'd not seen that properly reflected on television or even in a movie. So I wanted to put that at the forefront."
4. The cast agreed to take part in the show because of Kay Mellor's brilliant script
While the leading trio praised the issues that the drama addresses (prepare for some tounge-in-cheek menopause gags), they all agreed that it was in fact the brilliant script that drew them to this particular project.
Phyllis admitted, "It was about the characters, about the way they dealt with each situation, and the way they interact with each other."
And Zoe Wanamaker agreed, "The script was the foundation and is always the foundation as far as I'm concerned before I accept a character."
MORE: "I've loved writing big roles for fifty-something women" - writer Kay Mellor gives us the inside scoop on Girlfriends
She also said that the fact that the script is all about 'normal' women, was one of the things that encouraged her to take the part of Northerner Gail.
"It's about ordinary women, but of course, who is ordinary? It's interesting that someone has finally examined that woman. You're being given a little window to see that."
Miranda also said, "It is interesting, because we are a changing demographic, 'women of a certain age'."
5. The three leads were going to be American - but Kay quickly knew who she wanted to cast.
Kay revealed that there were some potential big American actresses in the mix for the drama.
She said, "I had lots of people pitching to me that had heard about the project, and some of them were really big American names, but I wanted an authenticity to it.
"I really wanted it to be a British series. I didn't want an American doing an accent even though I know it can work, but it's not my world, so I really wanted British talent."
So did she know immediately who she wanted to cast for the three leads?
"I never write with an actress in mind. I write for a character. But then I sit down with David [casting director] and we think, ‘who might play that part?'. And we started off with Sue, and very quickly we thought of Miranda because she fit the bill perfectly in every way.
"Phyllis had her interview on Skype. I've known of Phyllis' work for ages, and I knew she was so right for Linda.
"And for Gail, we were like, ‘Would Zoe be interested?'. I'd seen her do a Northern accent before, and I reminded her of that! I sent her the script and had a few chats about it, because her character and role is not straightforward. And she said yes! So I was blessed really. I've got three of the best British actresses around."
6. One of the main characters is based on one of Kay's best friends
While she does her best to keep the inspiration behind her characters a secret, Kay Mellor admitted that sometimes, parts of her loved ones inevitably blend in to the characters she writes.
And in this case, Phyllis character Linda was actually inspired by one of Kay's closest friends. The pair met at school and still see each other regularly, for 'girls nights'.
She shared, "I pride myself on the fact that I have three really good friends and probably one exceptionally good friend - Linda."
Kay went on to admit the likeness between real-life Linda and Girlfriends Linda, and revealed that luckily, her friends don't seem to mind the comparisons nowdays.
"And there are definitely bits of Linda in the character of Linda - her warmth and her humour. My friends and family know I'm a writer, they know I put bits of them in my pieces."
Girlfriends begins tonight (3rd January) on ITV, 9pm