Mor­ven Christie & Vicky McClure

Edgy new TV thriller The Re­place­ment pits two ca­reer moth­ers against each other. It’s pow­er­ful stuff, stars Vicky McClure and Mor­ven Christie tell Su­san Swar­brick – but don’t get us started on so­ci­ety’s misog­y­nis­tic mythol­o­gis­ing about ma­ter­nity

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

T is lunchtime in a busy Glas­gow restau­rant, where Mor­ven Christie and Vicky McClure are chat­ting like old friends catch­ing up, their loud peals of laugh­ter car­ry­ing across the room.

The duo are shoot­ing BBC psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller The Re­place­ment just around the corner at the for­mer 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games head­quar­ters in the Mer­chant City, which has tem­po­rar­ily been turned into the of­fices of a fic­tional ar­chi­tec­tural firm.

The close, off-set friend­ship forged by Nottingham-born McClure, 33, and Glas­gow na­tive Christie, 35, is in stark con­trast to the bristling dy­namic that view­ers will wit­ness be­tween their on­screen al­ter egos in The Re­place­ment.

“We are hav­ing the best time and get­ting on like a house on fire which is bril­liant,” says McClure, who made her name in Shane Mead­ows’s award-win­ning film and TV se­ries This Is Eng­land as well as Broad­church and Line Of Duty. “If we didn’t it would be so painful be­cause of the roles we are play­ing.”

The three-part drama, which be­gins on BBC One this Tues­day, tack­les un­flinch­ingly gritty sub­ject mat­ter that in­cludes the fetishi­sa­tion of moth­er­hood, gen­der pol­i­tics in the work­place and the stigma sur­round­ing men­tal health.

Christie – who has starred in Grantch­ester, Doc­tor Who and The A Word – plays Ellen, an am­bi­tious ar­chi­tect whose sense of iden­tity is sent into freefall when she un­ex­pect­edly be­comes preg­nant at the same time as land­ing the big­gest project of her ca­reer. Swap­ping her brick­sand-mor­tar baby (a £12.2 mil­lion li­brary) for one of real-life flesh and blood proves an emo­tion­ally dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion.

Not least when Ellen’s plans to re­turn seam­lessly to work af­ter the birth are thrown into tur­moil by the ar­rival of her ma­ter­nity cover, McClure’s char­ac­ter Paula. On pa­per, they are po­lar op­po­sites: Ellen has ded­i­cated her­self to climb­ing to the top of her cho­sen pro­fes­sion, while Paula took a decade-long ca­reer break to de­vote her­self to full-time moth­er­hood.

Paula quickly wins over col­leagues and clients with her pro­fes­sion­al­ism, charm and bound­less en­thu­si­asm, but there is some­thing in­tan­gi­ble that leaves Ellen feel­ing in­creas­ingly rat­tled. The flames of dis­con­tent are fur­ther stoked by Paula’s in­sis­tence that when Ellen falls in love with her new baby she won’t want to re­turn to work.

As the Hitch­cock-style sus­pense and

ra­zor-edge ten­sion builds, Ellen be­comes con­vinced that there are far darker forces at play. Yet, Ellen’s fam­ily, friends and even her hus­band dis­miss her grow­ing con­cerns as yo-yoing preg­nancy hor­mones and a jeal­ousy-driven per­son­al­ity clash.

“Quite a lot of the time it is dif­fi­cult to tell who is be­ing para­noid, whether things are re­ally hap­pen­ing or whether they are imag­ined, and whose side you are meant to be on,” ex­plains Christie. “Like Vicky says, if we were do­ing this and didn’t get on it would be dif­fi­cult be­cause it is not di­rect con­flict, it’s be­neath the sur­face and that can snake un­der your skin.”

At a Bafta Scot­land screen­ing of The Re­place­ment in Glas­gow last month, writer and di­rec­tor Joe Ahearne re­vealed that the grip­ping sto­ry­line was loosely in­spired by the ex­pe­ri­ences faced by pro­ducer Ni­cole Cau­ve­r­ien, his close friend and long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor, when re­cruit­ing ma­ter­nity cover.

I’m keen to get Christie and McClure’s take on the po­tent is­sues that Ahearne – who pre­vi­ously worked on Doc­tor Who, This Life and co-wrote Danny Boyle’s 2013 fea­ture Trance – has woven into the hel­ter-skel­ter twist­ing plot.

McClure sets down her knife and fork, giv­ing full at­ten­tion to the topic at hand. “Me and Mor­ven don’t have chil­dren,” she says. “We are both play­ing a role wherewe­have­had­kids,orarehav­ing kids, and we don’t have any­thing to tap into on a re­al­ity level.

“How­ever, we are both women, han­dling new-born ba­bies and it is hard not to feel cooey and maybe a bit broody. It is im­pos­si­ble not to and is just some­thing that feels nat­u­ral for us. But it doesn’t for ev­ery­one and that’s all right.

“We are both in our 30s and haven’t had kids yet and some peo­ple might say: ‘Oh, it’s a bit late’. Ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to their opin­ion. I think we live in a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion now where if you are healthy and fit enough to have a child at an age you feel is ap­pro­pri­ate for you, then go do it.”

A fort­night be­fore we meet, in sum­mer 2016 when the Con­ser­va­tive party lead­er­ship con­test is in full flow, can­di­date An­drea Lead­som sug­gested that be­ing a mother makes her a bet­ter choice for Prime Min­is­ter than fel­low con­tender Theresa May, who doesn’t have chil­dren. Moth­er­hood, she said, gave her “a very real stake” in Bri­tain’s fu­ture.

The sub­ject raises Christie’s hack­les. An edge creeps into her voice and there’s a steely glint in her eye. “This whole ‘as a mother’ non­sense,” she says, her nos­trils flar­ing with out­rage. “As a hu­man be­ing. We are all hu­man be­ings. If you can only find your hu­man­ity through moth­er­hood then there is some­thing a wee bit wrong.

“To sug­gest we are lack­ing some­thing, that there is a part of us that’s dead in our com­pas­sion or sen­si­tiv­ity un­til we pro­cre­ate I think is mad­ness. I’m a com­pas­sion­ate per­son, Vicky is a com­pas­sion­ate per­son, I’m sure you are a com­pas­sion­ate per­son. Hav­ing a child or not hav­ing a child does not af­fect that.

“Those qual­i­ties in women are there. I have ma­ter­nal qual­i­ties. Whether I have my own chil­dren at the mo­ment or not, it doesn’t re­strict the abil­ity to use those. I use them in my life all the time.”

Christie takes a fu­ri­ous bite from the oat­cake she’s hold­ing as if imag­in­ing chomp­ing off the head of any­one who would ut­ter such gib­ber­ish.

BE­SIDE her, McClure takes up the thread. “Isn’t it amaz­ing we are chat­ting about this?” she muses. “I find it in­cred­i­ble that peo­ple are so small-minded. I just don’t get it.” We spend sev­eral min­utes dis­cussing the re­al­ity of ev­ery­day sex­ism and misog­yny. “There is an ob­ses­sion with women’s bodies, their wombs and waist­lines – it is ridicu­lous,” con­tin­ues Christie.

“In this story [The Re­place­ment] there is a lot of talk about that in the con­text of what hap­pens when you are preg­nant and sud­denly peo­ple feel like they have agency over your body in some way. They can po­lice what you eat and whether or not they can touch you.

“With or with­out the moth­er­hood and preg­nancy sit­u­a­tion, I think that does just hap­pen to women all the time. There is this con­stant con­ver­sa­tion we are hav­ing about who’s got a boob job, who has had Bo­tox and who hasn’t – it is re­lent­less.”

It still feels fairly rare to see two women cast in such en­ve­lope-push­ing roles in a TV drama. “Usu­ally you get a de­cent role but you are do­ing it op­po­site the guy who is kind of more the lead,” says Christie. “This isn’t like that. It is proper toe-to-toe.”

There is the sense of them valiantly fight­ing the urge to roll their eyes about how women, in gen­eral, are de­picted in film and tele­vi­sion.

“We talk a lot about ‘strong fe­male char­ac­ters’,” says Christie. “And out of that comes this idea they have to be a bit kick-ass and that you’re not a strong woman if you aren’t fight­ing …” “… aliens,” fin­ishes McClure. “Or be­ing Jes­sica Jones [the Marvel hero­ine],” con­tin­ues Christie. “This is an ar­chi­tect. She has trained for seven years. That is a strong woman.”

It is a theme that Christie will later elab­o­rate on dur­ing a Q&A that fol­lows the Bafta Scot­land screen­ing. “I think we should be telling dif­fi­cult women’s sto­ries and see­ing more flawed women on tele­vi­sion,” she says. “That is my MO [modus operandi].”

She also re­veals that an early an­nounce­ment about the pro­gramme, which al­luded to the “darker side of moth­er­hood and work­ing women”, al­most put her off en­tirely.

“I thought: ‘Away to f***, I’m not do­ing that,’” she re­calls. “It made me not want to do the piece, but then I read the script.”

Even when talk­ing about the show, says Christie, there are peo­ple keen to pi­geon­hole her or McClure in a way she feels is miss­ing the big­ger pic­ture about the sto­ry­line.

“For me it is about iden­tity,” she

Quite a lot of the time it is dif­fi­cult to tell who is be­ing para­noid, whether things are re­ally hap­pen­ing or whether they are imag­ined, and whose side you are meant to be on

adds. “The clefts you reach in your life where your iden­tity or the way you de­fine your­self is chang­ing and how desta­bil­is­ing that can be.”

McClure is no less san­guine when we catch up later on the phone. “It wasn’t ever some­thing where I thought: ‘I want to tackle women’s is­sues’ or ‘I’m do­ing this part be­cause it is about strong fe­males’,” she as­serts.

“I en­joy play­ing strong fe­males and [in pro­duc­tions] where women are at the fore­front, but for me it was the story and ev­ery­thing that sur­rounded the script and the char­ac­ters Ellen and Paula. It has this weird thriller twist to it. I haven’t re­ally done stuff like that be­fore.”

Since shoot­ing The Re­place­ment, Christie and McClure have been far from the prover­bial rest­ing ac­tors. Christie re­cently wrapped film­ing on the third se­ries of Grantch­ester and is pre­par­ing to start work on se­ries two of The A Word next month.

McClure, mean­while, went straight into pro­duc­tion for the much an­tic­i­pated fourth se­ries of Line Of Duty, due out this spring, an all-ac­tion role that has seen grow­ing calls for her to be the next James Bond.

“Oh mate, could you imag­ine?” laughs McClure. Christie fer­vently shakes her head. “Bond is a t***. You de­serve bet­ter than Bond,” she says.

McClure nods in agree­ment. “I’m more of a Bourne girl,” she con­cludes. Christie claps her hands in de­light. “You would be a great Bourne. Be a Bourne.”

“If I had to be ei­ther/or I would be all for Bourne,” says McClure.

She re­calls the high-oc­tane se­quence at the end of the last se­ries of Line Of Duty. “Run­ning around with a mas­sive ma­chine gun and be­ing at­tached to mov­ing lor­ries was hard work. I’m not the fittest per­son in the world. I don’t go to the gym on a weekly ba­sis. I was glad peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ated it. That was a nice com­pli­ment.”

That im­age is in sharp con­trast to the power suits, talon-like false nails and per­fectly coiffed hair of Paula in The Re­place­ment. “Please God, don’t think I dress like this on a daily ba­sis,” pleads McClure as she splays her fin­gers on the ta­ble. “The nails! At first I couldn’t do up my but­tons.”

CHRISTIE guf­faws with laugh­ter. “I kept ask­ing her to pass me things be­cause it was so funny watch­ing her go like that … “she says, mak­ing a pin­cer move­ment with her hand like a flail­ing crab. McClure and Christie hope that view­ers of The Re­place­ment will find them­selves flit­ting back and forth, torn be­tween root­ing for Team Ellen or Team Paula, as the drama un­folds.

“It’s only once we get to the end of the story we can see why Paula has done what Paula’s done and why Ellen has done what Ellen’s done – there is a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for both,” says McClure.

“There are cer­tain things that they each do that aren’t right or fair or are cruel, but there is a pain that sur­rounds them so I don’t think the au­di­ence will know which way to turn un­til they get to the end. We hope there will be a cer­tain amount of com­pas­sion for each char­ac­ter.”

The pair are gre­gar­i­ous com­pany when in full-on ban­ter­ing mode. “Ooooh, I’ve got two things,” says Christie, glee­fully as she tucks into her lunch. “I’m the greedy one. She’s got her nice lit­tle salad …”

“But usu­ally it’s not,” in­ter­jects McClure. “We are both pigs,” agrees Christie. They laugh when I re­mind them that McClure’s Line Of Duty co-star, Martin Comp­ston, once joked that she couldn’t be more than 20 min­utes away from a 24-hour Greggs bak­ery. “There is a Greggs on ev­ery corner in Glas­gow, that’s why I feel so at home,” she dead­pans.

McClure’s eyes widen when I men­tion that there are often se­cu­rity guards out­side some of the late night open­ing branches across the city.

“Re­ally? To pro­tect the sausage rolls?” Be­side her Christie chips in. “Yeah, from you,” she quips.

The ac­tors strike me as sim­i­lar per­son­al­i­ties: no-non­sense, straight-shoot­ers who don’t sugar-coat things. The women ex­change fond smiles. “Yeah,” con­firms Christie. “I would say that is pretty on the money.” The Re­place­ment be­gins on BBC One, Tues­day, 9pm

Top: Mor­ven Christie and co-star Richard Rankin. Above: Vicky McClure

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