25 March 2024

The first episode of Big Mood - the eagerly awaited six-part comedy - is due to air on Channel 4 on Thursday 28 March. Behind the scenes, Bipolar UK has been working with the production team to help guide authenticity around the storyline.

Written and created by Camilla Whitehill, the story follows Maggie (played by Nicola Coughlan [Bridgerton, Derry Girls]) and Eddie (played by Lydia West [It’s A Sin, Inside Man]) through a series of chaotic events after Maggie’s bipolar makes an unwelcome return.

Here, Big Mood Director Rebecca Asher (Dead to Me, Brooklyn Nine Nine) and Executive Producer Lotte Beasley Mestriner (The Young Offenders) sit down with Bipolar UK for an exclusive Q&A.

How much does Maggie's diagnosis of bipolar influence the storyline of 'Big Mood’?

Asher: At its heart Big Mood is about deep female friendship between two complex characters.

At the time we meet Eddie and Maggie, Maggie’s bipolar disorder is one of the big issues that’s challenging their friendship. She’s been frustrated with the side effects of her medication and starts to mismanage her bipolar.

Their friendship gets strained by this at a time when Eddie is going through her own personal struggles and might need Maggie for more than Maggie is able to give.

Lotte: Yes, as Asher says, both the friends are going through personal crises at the same time – Maggie’s is related to her bipolar diagnosis, so part of the storyline looks at how that impacts their friendship.

While the central aim of TV comedy is to entertain, rather than educate, was it important for you to understand bipolar and ‘get it right’ on screen?

Asher: I have good friends who have bipolar, so it has always been important to me to understand it, but working on Big Mood gave me the opportunity to delve deeper and understand some of the finer details so we could represent Maggie’s experience thoughtfully.

Lotte: I was very keen to get a well-rounded understanding of bipolar, so I was really grateful to Bipolar UK and Professor Guy Goodwin for giving us their views on our scripts before production – we found their advice invaluable.

I wanted to understand bipolar as much as possible, but we were also aware we would never be able to create a single portrayal that could possibly represent the experience of bipolar in its entirety. So I hope people watch it in that light – that this is only Maggie’s experience.

In creating this show, did you feel any responsibility towards the million-plus people living with bipolar? Is that why you asked the team at Bipolar UK and Professor Guy Goodwin, a leading expert in bipolar, to review the script?

Asher: For me the feeling was less about a responsibility and more about an opportunity. Anytime you can tell story that might contain characteristics that could feel familiar to a part of its audience, it becomes important to get details as accurate as you can.

When people watch anything there is a comfort in feeling seen, or familiarity with what a character is going through, but those feelings can be betrayed by details that don’t feel genuine.

Lotte: Yes we tried to keep a keen eye on the details in both the story and in its translation to screen. For example, Camilla put little clues in Episode 1 to indicate Maggie’s state of mind, which I think people who understand bipolar are more likely to pick up on.

We worked hard to keep a balance between making it funny and entertaining, whilst treating Maggie’s experience of bipolar with sensitivity. I hope we succeeded.

There are over half a million people in the UK living with undiagnosed bipolar. Do you think the series will help some of them recognise the symptoms, and ask for help or even seek a diagnosis?

Asher: Oh gosh, I don’t know, that’s hard to say for sure. But, if someone who didn’t realise they were bipolar recognised themselves in this show and managed to get some treatment… that would make anyone who worked on Big Mood, cast and crew alike, feel great, for sure.

Lotte: Yes, that would make us feel really great although I’d encourage anyone who might be in that position to seek advice from medical professionals and specialist charities.

At the planning stage, did you watch any other fictional characters with bipolar for inspiration? Has your understanding of bipolar changed throughout the filming/production process? How?

Asher: I talked to my own therapist about the specifics of bipolar disorder, talked to some friends with bipolar disorder and read Kay Redfield Jamison’s book ‘An Unquiet Mind’. I would not claim to be even close to an expert just from these things, but through them, and the content of the scripts, I have a deeper knowledge. I’m grateful for that.

Lotte: I focussed on factual sources, and didn’t seek out any fictional characters, as they are someone else’s interpretation of bipolar, and I didn’t want to be influenced by that to then create an interpretation of an interpretation, as it were.

My understanding of bipolar is much deeper now, though I’m aware it’s highly complex and there is a lot more to learn.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when portraying a complex mental health illness on screen?

Asher: Camilla had a very specific story she was telling about a deep and strong friendship between two complex and incredible women.

Mostly I hoped to help effectively tell that story with all its intricacies, including Maggie’s personal experience with her bipolar disorder. I didn’t find honouring both of those things at once challenging, except in the usual ways production can be challenging, of course.

Do you think stigma still surrounds severe mental illnesses, such as bipolar, and do you think Big Mood is helping to banish this stigma?

Asher: I see that stigma still in America, for sure. Big Mood is six episodes in a big world, I wouldn’t dare put such high expectations on it, but if it helps even one person, that would be amazing.

Lotte: I couldn’t agree more, Asher, that would be amazing. Camilla has created fantastic characters – Maggie isn’t just defined by her bipolar, she is a complex character who is dealing with many of life’s challenges - her work, her relationships, her family, and it’s ultimately a story about Maggie and Eddie’s friendship and whether it can survive under pressure.

It was such a brilliant experience working with the Big Mood team to bring Maggie and Eddie to life on screen. If it helps start positive conversations that need to be had, then that would be wonderful. 

Last updated: 25 March 2024