Joe Cornish's 'Lockwood & Co' on Netflix innovates the world of supernatural entertainment

Based on the books by Jonathan Stroud, the first season of the Lockwood & Co series is a compelling, addictive addition to teen-focused supernatural dramas

Famed U.K. writer/director Joe Cornish has innovated the world of ghost stories with the Netflix series Lockwood & Co, based on the books by Jonathan Stroud and starring Ruby Stokes, Cameron Chapman and Ali Hadji-Heshmati.

Cornish, who wrote and directed the famed film Attack the Block, had been eying the Lockwood & Co stories for more than a decade before this project actually took off.

“There was kind of a lot of excitement about them and there was a bit of a bidding war for them,” Cornish explained. “We tried to get a hold of it but a major studio in Hollywood snapped it up and a feature film was developed.”

While Cornish seemingly missed out on getting the right for the first Lockwood & Co book, he formed a production company with Edgar Wright, Nira Park and Rachael Prior.

“So fast forward 10 years later, there are now five 'Lockwood & Co' books and we're looking for something to develop into our first TV show," Cornish explained. "Lo and behold, the books have come back onto the market, so to speak, because the movie has never happened."

"So while I was in post-production on my movie The Kid Who Would Be King, I got on the phone to the author Jonathan Stroud and sweet talked to him, and then we got the rights. And then we sweet talked Netflix, and here we are.”

The Lockwood & Co world has aspects of our reality, but it's plagued with a ghost epidemic. Young people can connect with ghosts better than adults so these companies have emerged, essentially ghost-hunting agencies, to manage the supernatural and get rid of the source of any angry spirits. There is one company that operates completely without adult supervision, called Lockwood & Co in London, ran by Anthony Lockwood (Chapman) and his friend George Karim (Hadji-Heshmati).

While Lucy (Stokes) had been training outside of the city, a disastrous situation finds her running away from home. She ends up joining Lockwood & Co, with both Anthony and George impressed with her ability to hear ghosts, and the trio quickly find themselves wrapped up in a dangerous supernatural mystery.

Lockwood (Cameron Chapman), Lucy (Ruby Stokes) & George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati) fight off a ghost in Lockwood & Co on Netflix (Netflix)
Lockwood (Cameron Chapman), Lucy (Ruby Stokes) & George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati) fight off a ghost in Lockwood & Co on Netflix (Netflix)

Simple but effective concept

Oftentimes, there is a pattern wth supernatural TV shows and movies where there's a rather complex mythology to learn and follow to really get the most out of a particular narrative. With Lockwood & Co, as Cornish highlights, there's a level of approachability to this world.

“The main thing that attracted me was the simplicity of the concept," Cornish said. "A lot of big streaming series feel like a history lesson or a geography lesson, they feel like you need to study to understand who the various royal houses are, or who's an orc and who's an elf, and what history they've had."

"This has a very, very simple premise, that the world is infested by ghosts. Ghosts can kill you by touching you. Kids can sense them better than adults, therefore adults set up these ghost fighting agencies employing kids, and there's only one agency that doesn't have adult supervision. That's the agency at the centre of our story."

That being said, the basis of this show, Stroud's novels, were developed with such great detail that allowed Cornish to really build this incredibly attractive and perfectly detailed space to dive into the compelling characters.

“I haven't seen a set of rules so carefully set out," Cornish said. "That's one of the really attractive things about the books is how carefully Jonathan has thought about the power of physics, of how ghosts exist."

"The back of every 'Lockwood & Co' book is a glossary full of terms that Jonathan has created and defined. And a really strict set of rules of how ghosts behave, how you deal with them, a taxonomy of different types. I think that's really unusual.”

Lockwood (Cameron Chapman), Lucy (Ruby Stokes) & George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati) fight off a ghost in Lockwood & Co on Netflix (Netflix)
Lockwood (Cameron Chapman), Lucy (Ruby Stokes) & George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati) fight off a ghost in Lockwood & Co on Netflix (Netflix)

Brilliant trio of teens put in adult circumstances

While Cornish is no stranger to a teen-led story, for Lockwood & Co, there's something particularly alluring about putting young people in these very adult circumstances.

“That's at the centre of the books, the idea that young people are thrown into these situations that are really the terrain of adults," Cornish said. “Death is something you shouldn't be thinking about when you're a kid.”

“The issues in life that might that make you fail to cross to the other side and hang around as a ghost are not really what you should be thinking about as a young person. Running a company is not what you should think about as a young person. Having to live alone in your house and run your house is not something you necessarily think about as a young person. But that's part of the aspirational nature of what makes the books so great and it's part of this sort of escapist fantasy of what makes it a compelling story.”

What Cornish has been able to expertly balance in the series is these high-stakes, action-packed plot points with, as he describes it, the "coziness" from the books where Lucy, George and Anthony Lockwood laugh at home and enjoy their tea and biscuits together.

Of course, in order to execute this concept, the series needed actors who could take on the dynamics of the story. Ruby Stokes, Cameron Chapman and Ali Hadji-Heshmati are all brilliant. Stokes caught Cornish's attention in a film called Rocks and she was such a perfect fit for Lucy that he stopped her audition halfway through.

"Ali is a brilliant George, he doesn't necessarily physically look like the George that's described in the book," Cornish said. "He encapsulates the character so beautifully though, as a personality."

"He happens to be British-Iranian, so we change the surname of the character. Jonathan Stroud helped us with that and we kind of integrate some elements of that, which we think makes an even better character."

When it came to finding the right Anthony Lockwood, Cornish admitted that was the most difficult piece of the puzzle.

"We discovered Cameron in drama school, he'd never done anything before, and we were really relieved when he came in," Cornish said. "We were really down to the wire because we knew whoever this was, they had to start sword training, they had to get physically fit, they had to start rehearsal, we had to measure them for costumes. So there's a deadline for this stuff."

"Thank god he walked in and was terrific."

Joe Cornish with Ruby Stokes on-set of Netflix' Lockwood & Co (Parisa Taghizadeh/Netflix)
Joe Cornish with Ruby Stokes on-set of Netflix' Lockwood & Co (Parisa Taghizadeh/Netflix)

'This is just the starter course'

While Cornish's writing and directing experience is extensive, he recognizes the advantages to having a reference point, in this case Stroud's books, to work from.

“You start halfway around the racetrack when you have a book, especially a book as good as this,” Cornish said. “It's like starting on a second or third draft, but then you come across all sorts of surprising issues, like things that might make sense in your imagination but when you actually physically staged them, they don't make so much sense.”

“You don't have to block a book, in the sense that you don't actually have to be completely nailed down about where everybody is and where everything is. You do when you actually shoot something. So it was a really interesting set of challenges, but definitely kind of liberating to have a material.”

When it comes to the future of Lockwood & Co, Cornish has a lot more he would love to dive into for the series.

"There's a terrific storyline that happens pretty soon with another girl arriving at the agency called Holly," Cornish teased. "That creates really interesting dynamics between our three lead characters. ... There's a tremendous set piece in a department store in central London that I would love to direct."

"The books get better because, Jonathan will admit this, he discovers more about his world and he creates more interesting layers and elements ... This is just the starter course, there's a main course, a side dish and a spectacular pudding to come. And a cheese plate, maybe."