Cover story

Anna Friel stars in But­ter­fly, a drama about a fam­ily in cri­sis

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‘when I heard about the bul­ly­ing these chil­dren re­ceived I was flab­ber­gasted’

Anna Friel

new Drama


Sun­day, ITV HD, 9pm

FROM BE­ING IN­VOLVED in one of TV’S first les­bian kisses in Brook­side, to play­ing a sex worker in The Street and a dis­turbed de­tec­tive in

Mar­cella, Anna Friel has never shied away from a tough role.

But now she’s fac­ing one of the most emo­tional chal­lenges of her ca­reer as she plays the mother of a ‘gen­der vari­ant’ child in new

ITV drama But­ter­fly.

The sen­si­tively han­dled three­part se­ries sees her play de­voted mother-of-two and teach­ing as­sis­tant Vicky Duffy, whose 11-year-old-son, Max, re­veals that he iden­ti­fies as a girl.


Max has tried to sup­press his feel­ings, par­tic­u­larly to please his fa­ther, Stephen (Em­mett J Scanlan), but as he starts se­nior school and pu­berty beck­ons, the pain he feels at hav­ing to con­form be­comes too hard to bear and he an­nounces that from now on he wants to live his life as a girl, Max­ine.

Vicky is torn about what’s best for her child, re­veals Friel. ‘Vicky has let Max wear girls’ clothes at home but out in the big wide world, he dresses as a boy,’ she says. ‘Now she sees her child is in agony and de­pressed. At one point she blames her­self, so it’s a very hon­est and truth­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

‘The hard­est thing for par­ents is say­ing hello to a new child and good­bye to an­other. But she has a great un­der­stand­ing and a mother’s in­stinct and thinks, “I want an alive daugh­ter rather than a dead son.”’

While Max­ine’s sis­ter, Lily (Mil­lie Gib­son), is sup­port­ive, Vicky’s strait-laced mother, Bar­bara (Ali­son Stead­man), strug­gles to un­der­stand her grand­child.

Vicky and Stephen also find them­selves at odds over how to move for­ward. Stephen thinks it’s a tem­po­rary ‘phase’ and his rigid at­ti­tude leads him to clash with Vicky, which causes Max/max­ine fur­ther tur­moil. But can they re­build their frac­tured re­la­tion­ship to sup­port their child?

‘They sep­a­rated be­cause of this dif­fer­ence in opin­ion. Vicky is lis­ten­ing to Max­ine but Stephen just can’t cope,’ says Friel. ‘The drama looks at things from ev­ery per­son’s side. It’s about what would hap­pen to a reg­u­lar fam­ily that is thrown into dis­ar­ray be­cause they don’t know what to do. You watch them on a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery.’

The ac­tress is full of praise for young Callum Booth-ford, who plays the dif­fi­cult role of Max­ine.


‘We had an au­di­tion process and, hav­ing been a child ac­tress my­self, I know it’s daunt­ing so I wanted to make the boys feel com­fort­able and we talked about the ef­fect that it would have on them,’ she says.

‘I re­mem­ber Callum said, “It’s a part. I’m act­ing. If other peo­ple don’t get that, that’s their prob­lem.” He has some­thing re­ally spe­cial. His con­cen­tra­tion, fo­cus and level of un­der­stand­ing is way bet­ter than mine was at that age.’

Friel ad­mits she felt a huge sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity about tack­ling the com­plex is­sue of gen­der vari­ance and, as part of their re­search, she and Scanlan vis­ited the trans­gen­der sup­port charity Mer­maids UK.

‘I was fas­ci­nated but ill-in­formed about the sub­ject,’ she says. ‘When I went to Mer­maids and heard about the bul­ly­ing these chil­dren re­ceived, even from par­ents of other chil­dren, I was flab­ber­gasted.

‘One lit­tle girl moved me when she said, “God didn’t work all day when he made me; he only worked for half a day.” I came away with em­pa­thy, com­pas­sion and re­spect.’




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