Twelve years ago an unknown actor named Sean Bean caught the eye of a TV producer.
Ray Marshall was casting for his ambitious two-hour adaptation of the Catherine Cookson novel The Fifteen Streets.
He needed someone dashing, a bit rough around the edges, but also something of a charmer. He instantly knew Sean Bean was right for the role of Dominic O'Brien. It was a casting made in heaven.
And thanks to his role in the drama set on the Tyne docks in 1910, Sean Bean became a household name and international film star.
Evening Chronicle, June 2001
The Fifteen Streets
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England; Late Victorian (1989)
Owen Teale.........John O'Brien
Sean Bean...........Dominic O'Brien
Clare Holman......Mary Llewellyn
Faye Dannell.......Katie O'Brien
Jane Horrocks.....Christine Bracken
"You were seen at the Empire, with a docker... He's from the Fifteen Streets and the family are notorious." Beatrice Llewellyn
"Notorious? For what, mother? Poverty? Hunger?" Mary Llewellyn
Storyline: A dramatization of Catherine Cookson's novel, The Fifteen Streets is a tale of class division set in the docklands of Newcastle at the turn of the century. John O'Brien, oldest of five children and dockworker, by chance meets Mary Llewellyn, his sister Katie's teacher. They fall in love even though Mary's father owns the docks, and John lives in the slums or Fifteen Streets as the area is known. John is also accused of getting the local retarded girl, Nancy, pregnant; this turns all the neighbours against him. After nearly getting beaten up by the local men, he makes plans to emigrate to America. Meanwhile John's brother, Dominic, has taken a keen interest in Christine Bracken, granddaughter of a spiritualist who's moved next door. John tells Katie to hang around Christine whenever Dominic is around, but disaster happens when Dominic tries to get into a boat with Christine and Katie. A disaster Dominic can never atone for, and added to this, Nancy reveals whom the real father of her child is.
Acting/dialogue: The entire cast in this film were superb, the script, although slow in some places, was very good also. Sean Bean turned in a magnificent performance as the foul-tempered, womanizing, and often drunk Dominic. His contempt and hate for his brother is always simmering under the surface. Sean has also mastered the Geordie accent (though watered down) splendidly, a difficult accent to deliver accurately. It was also an excellent performance by Owen Teale as John, trying to keep his family from tearing each other apart as well as court Mary. Billie Whitelaw portrayed Mary's mother wonderfully, she was perfectly snobbish and full of contempt for the relationship, going so far as to call her daughter a "slag". The best line belongs to Dominic, who with a little lost boy look, asks his Mum, "Where's me tea?" and another good quote from Mary, "Wonderful! I get that everyday from Katie. 'Eeee, our John's wonderful.!'"
Historical Accuracy: The depiction of the slums of Newcastle was very realistic and greatly added the feel of the film. The constant worry about having enough to eat from week to week to feed a large family was a very real problem. Also the depiction of workers not knowing from one day to the next if they'd be working as they were hired on a day by day basis. Newcastle, itself, is famous for shipbuilding and coal, although those industries are almost non-existent now.
Believability: The only part that I found unconvincing was when Christine's faith healing grandfather (Ian Bannen) miraculously saves Mrs. O'Brien's (Anny Tobin) life after she goes into premature labour. I feel this aspect of the character was unnecessary, and the plot would have done just as well without it. I also found it hard to believe that the local people who were ready to beat John to a pulp for fathering Nancy's child, would help Dominic escape for the same reason.
Turn Ons: Sean Bean is wickedly wonderful in The Fifteen Streets. A true Bad Boy. Dominic really has no redeeming qualities, but it is pure pleasure to watch those menacing stares and sardonic grins. For a touch of humour in an otherwise serious drama, I enjoyed the priest's (Mark Mulholland) reaction to the sleeping potion he received by accident.
Etched in blood, passion and tragedy, The Fifteen Streets is an intensely moving Victorian-era drama, based on the best-selling novel by Catherine Cookson, one of England's most celebrated and beloved authors.
Owen Teale is John O'Brien, a dock worker who fights against the suffering around him with his heart, unlike the members of his rowdy, brawling family - which includes his wayward brother Dominic (Sean Bean).
After a chance meeting with his sister's beautiful teacher, Mary Llewellyn (Clare Holman), romance blossoms for John. But this appears doomed because of the very nature of the classes of society which separate them.
The arrival of a family of spiritual healers, or "spooks", complicates matters, as does the surprise pregnancy of Nancy, a local girl who accuses John of being the father. No one, however, is prepared for the eventual tragedy which will affect the lives of everyone in the street.
This International Emmy Award (1990) nominated production was filmed on location in Newcastle; at Chillingham Road Primary School; at Heaton Manor School; and on Richardson Street in Heaton. Other locations included the Beamish Museum in Co Durham and the Marsden Grotto in South Shields.
Filming began 22 March 1989 and lasted for six weeks.
Watch for a young Jane Horrocks as Christine, the daughter of Peter Bracken, the spiritualist; Billie Whitelaw as Mary Llewellyn's mother; and Ian Bannen as Peter Bracken.