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White Heat: ‘Back in the 60s and 70s, politics was everything’

from The Observer / by Euan Ferguson

The stars of the new six-part BBC drama reflect on friendships forged in the volatile 1960s

It’s always such a fillip to meet actors who have had fun making a TV series. Perhaps fun isn’t the word. White Heat, a six-parter written by Paula Milne and coming soon to BBC2, is a sprawling bittersweet epic marking the lives of seven friends from 1965 to today, and there is angst, and darkness, against some of the fastest-changing times in British history.

But Claire Foy and Sam Claflin, two of the impossibly bubbly young stars, seem to have enjoyed not just fun but the fun of learning. “It’s been an eye-opener,” says Foy, most recently seen in Upstairs Downstairs, “to realise that so many of the things women take for granted were so hard-fought for in the 60s, 70s, 80s. Sam and I start in 1965, and it runs with all the changes, choices, right up till now, though our faces aren’t seen after 1990 – some experienced people take over.”

“Yes,” butts in Claflin, cheerfully, “the good actors [Juliet Stevenson, Michael Kitchen, Lindsay Duncan] then start being us.”

“It’s a sign of how good Paula’s script is,” says Foy, who plays feminist Charlotte in the series, “that they wanted to be involved.”

It strikes me, I say, as we meet in the green room at the BFI, where the two are faintly nervous about facing a Q&A session after a screening – they needn’t be; neither is backward in coming forward – that this was more than a job for them: it was something of an education. “Absolutely,” says Foy. “For me, it was learning that the world we have been fortunate enough to receive is because of what happened in ’65, ’72, because of people like Charlotte, and it was so recent. Things moved so quickly just before I was born. Now they might be moving back. Women were so excited about education, that was the thing. Not ‘being famous’, or having nice shoes.”

“And the fact that people were so interested in politics,” adds Claflin, once a talented footballer who possibly gained more female fans by stopping doing that to appear in Any Human Heart and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Back then, in our characters’ decades, it was exciting, politics was everything.”

“What the experience made me think about,” says Foy, “was getting older. You see the characters making choices, decisions, through their life, ending up a certain way, and you think, oh God, if he’d only gone that way, or oh, if she hadn’t been so stubborn and gone that way. Our characters both have to make huge choices, it’s kind of like Sliding Doors. Hey, that could be a second series… what would have happened if?”

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