BBC Two’s been having a stellar run of drama recently, and the latest show aiming to capture the attention of the British public is The Night Watch. Based on the novel by Sarah Waters – she of Tipping The Velvet fame – the film focuses on the lives of several women living in wartime, and just post-wartime, London. Among the list of amazing stars taking part is Claire Foy, who recently chatted to reporters about her role in the drama. Read on to find out what she had to say about researching smoking, why love scenes are easier with two women, and whether she’s nervous about how the film will go down…
Tell us a little bit about Helen.
“We’re introduced to her at the end of the story. People get to a tipping point and they can’t go any further and they’re so anxious all the time and on a knife edge all the time – that’s where she is at the end. She’s in a relationship that isn’t going very well and she’s so vulnerable and so insecure and lacks confidence. I was reading the script going, ‘Oh no, don’t do that’ because it’s like watching one of your friends ruin a relationship. She says things like, ‘Where have you been? What are you doing? Where are you going? Who are you seeing? How do you feel about me? Do you love me? Tell me you love me’. All those things that you should never, ever, ever do, she does them all. It was quite difficult to play in a way because I’m not really like that. Well, I am like that, but I’m quite self-controlled. I had to really get in touch with the inner Desperate Housewife sort of person.”
And she works in a lonely hearts’ club…
“She’s working in a – irony – introduction agency. I never even knew they had them after the war. So she’s trying to set people up, but she can’t even sort her own love life out, which is so ironic. She’s living a lie – nobody knows she’s living with a woman, nobody knows that she’s desperately in love with a woman, and so every day she’s pretending to be someone she’s not. Even when she’s at home she can’t really be who she is because she’s too scared of losing the person she’s with. It’s just awful, it’s desperate, it’s horrible.”
How does telling the story backwards work?
“I think it is interesting for the audience because you don’t know it’s going to be like that at the beginning. When I watched it, I forgot it was a different time period. You don’t know you’re going to be introduced to things like that so you sort of forget. It’s that lovely thing like the beginning of Moulin Rouge when you realise that Nicole Kidman’s dead – you forget it by the end so when she’s dying you’re like, ‘Ahh…’ I think it’s nice to see characters at the end of their journey. It’s quite nice to watch it the other way round. But there are so many things that happen off screen with the relationships that you’ll have to play catch up a little bit. It’ll make the audience work quite hard to keep up, I think.”
Do we see different emotions from her in the different time periods?
“She is happy. But I think she’s just terribly, terribly confused. I think even before she embarked on relationships with women she was probably very confused, didn’t really know where she fits in. She’s just a bit of a malcontent, she’s a bit ill at ease with herself even though for all number of reasons she should be really happy. She just wants one person to love… She’s very, very young and this woman comes into her life and says, ‘I’ll take care of you’. It’s the war, she lives away from her family, she’s working in London, she’s already been out with a boy and it’s broken up. She’s kind of really lost and this woman says, ‘I’ll look after you and love you’ and that’s what she does. And silly girl, she just goes from one relationship to another.”
What was it like filming the love scenes?
“Brilliant. So much easier than with a man! It really was so lovely and so nice to be with a woman. It sounds silly, but as in you can talk and not feel awkward and everyone’s got the same bits and pieces so you don’t feel embarrassed. I’ve been really lucky, all the men I’ve had to kiss on screen I’ve got on really well with so I’ve been able to say, ‘Gosh, this is a bit embarrassing isn’t it?’ But when you’re doing it with a woman we were all a bit like, ‘Oh God, do we have to do this again?’ and we’d have a conversation… I think all of us were a bit scared, but as soon as you find it really funny that all of a sudden you’re snogging Anna Maxwell Martin, it’s just really amusing.”
Sarah Waters’ previous novel Tipping The Velvet was quite controversial when it was made for television – will The Night Watch get the same reaction?
“I don’t think so. I watched Tipping The Velvet and it was shocking because it was all about sex toys and people being all sexy. Sex isn’t the main focus of Night Watch – it’s the relationships. Sometimes television makes a point of being, ‘Women in a relationship! Aren’t we forward thinking?’ and sometimes labours the point a bit of going, ‘Isn’t this controversial?’ And there’s no need for it to be controversial because it’s just people being in relationships, whether they’re two men or two women or a man and a woman. Sarah’s book does have bits of description which are quite vivid and sexual in their own way. The film does have sexual content to it, because it needs to. I think the actors would prefer it if it was like, ‘No sex scenes, no kissing, no nudity, no nothing’ because then you don’t have to do anything embarrassing. But you have to do it in order to get people to go, ‘This is a real situation’.”
There’s been a bit of a trend for period dramas to get a bit racier recently.
“It’s adult TV, and I think the more of that there is the better – not to bash CBeebies. But it’s stuff that doesn’t patronise the audience. There’s still going to be that massive place for big period dramas that are of the period, everyone behaving quite proper. But I think people will always be interested in stuff that is the same situation but 50 years ago or 40 years ago. It all of a sudden seems much more glamorous when someone’s doing it when they’re wearing a corset.”
How does the wartime setting affect things?
“It’s sort of the same tone all the way through, which is it affects everybody’s lives… War made life easier in a weird way because your decisions were made for you. Then after the war when none of that exists any more you don’t know what to do with yourself. [In The Night Watch] Kay thinks there’s going to be this big women’s movement and all of a sudden we’ll have equal rights because we helped during the war and everything, and then it doesn’t happen. And you still can’t live with a woman even though so many women had relationships with each other during the war… Wartime turns Helen into this person that makes rash decisions because she doesn’t know what day is going to be her last.”
Did you get to meet Sarah Waters?
“I was too scared to speak to her at the read through. I was even too scared to speak to Paula Milne, who wrote the script. I ran away, I was too scared. I’d even be too scared now.”
Do you think Sarah’s seen it?
“I think she’s probably seen it. This is the strange thing that happens with adaptations and things – it becomes someone else’s property and I just hope we’ve done it justice. It’s different to the book… They’ve made it work for television. That’s always the worry, that people who have read the book will go, ‘I can’t believe you’ve done that’, but you couldn’t possibly fill it all in. But hopefully she’ll be really pleased with it.”
The Night Watch airs on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC Two.