Toronto Flashback: 'Widows' Began as a Hardboiled U.K. TV Series in 1983

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From left: Maureen O'Farrell as Linda Perelli, Fiona Hendley as Shirley Miller, Eva Mottley as Bella O'Reilly and Ann Mitchell as Dolly Rawlins on the 1983 series 'Widows.'

Ahead of the Steve McQueen film's Saturday premiere at the fest, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at its roots in 1980s British television.

Steve McQueen’s Widows, which premieres Saturday in Toronto, has its roots in 1980s British TV.

It was originally a six-part ITV series that in 1983 was a major breakthrough for writer Lynda La Plante. (She’s best known stateside for creating Prime Suspect, for which Helen Mirren won two Emmys playing the London detective Jane Tennison.) Tough women are a signature characteristic of her writing.

The plot of Widows has four women carrying out a bank robbery that their husbands, now deceased, had planned but bungled. The series has taken a while to get to the big screen.

For 20 years, Disney owned the motion picture rights, and in 2005 The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Cougar Films and the BBC had acquired an option to shoot a feature. But that never happened. The option expired, was returned to Disney and in 2014 was purchased by New Regency, which has partnered with Fox on the new film.

The main change between the series and the movie is the location. The McQueen version is set in Chicago, not London, where La Plante developed her characters through endless meetings with homicide detectives, prostitutes and pimps.

She tells THR about meeting at a pub a notorious murderer who fed his victims to pigs: “I’m sitting on a stool with this guy who had murdered all these people and going, ‘Well, it’s awfully nice of you to talk to me.’”

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Sept. 8 daily issue at the Toronto Film Festival.