Friendship, fame fun and
Julie walters on her controversial C4 drama, the loss of Victoria Wood, and looking forward to a train ride…
DRAMA of National Treasure, the C4 drama that has dished the dirt on fictional celebrity Paul
Finchley (Robbie Coltrane).
The much-loved star of a 1990s sitcom, Finchley has been arrested for sex crimes dating back 25 years. Julie plays Marie, his tough, long-suffering, Catholic wife.
Written by Jack Thorne, whose Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is drawing crowds in the West End, National Treasure is an unsettling piece that has put some viewers in mind of Operation Yewtree and allegations of abuse involving highprofile entertainers that followed the Jimmy Savile scandal.
‘It’s nothing like Savile,’ insists Julie. ‘It doesn’t have a message – it just looks at the impact of this happening when you’re a celebrity. It doesn’t try to say anything directly about the climate.
It’s more subtle than that.’
The nature of fame has also come under scrutiny in National Treasure. Julie’s character, Marie, is, very much at her own choosing, living a life in the shadows. It’s a situation that Julie can relate to: her husband Grant Roffey runs an organic farm in Sussex and has little to do with showbusiness.
‘He has absolutely no interest in it. For me, that’s wonderful… and it puts your life in perspective. But at those award ceremonies, you know, he’s there with me and that’s nice because they’re nerve-racking; you’re standing in front of the whole industry and the whole nation.’
Her work with Victoria constituted an almost parallel career. Throughout a partnership of over 30 years, Victoria wrote a brilliant range of roles for Julie, providing the ideal showcase for her instinctive comic timing.
‘They called it a partnership but it was all Vic really,’ says
Julie. ‘She wrote me fabulous stuff – comedy sketches are really hard to write but everything she did was like a tiny comic play; her characters were so insightful, never cruel and so sensitive about people’s fragility.’
Of all the characters Julie played for Victoria, Mrs Overall, the tealady from Acorn Antiques, is the one that made the most impression.
‘Mrs Overall has been with me forever. I think it’s partly because I’m round-shouldered. God knows what it will be like if I live much longer. I’ll be like this’ – she hunches over so she’s nearly bent double, her face screwed up like a cantankerous geriatric – ‘with a little head on the end’.
What was the basis of her friendship with Victoria? ‘I made her laugh and she made me laugh. We found the same things very funny and a lot of what we saw together inspired Vic’s comedy.’
Julie says it’s hard to look at other comedy scripts when you have worked with such a genius, and that part of the tragedy of her friend’s premature death – Victoria died from cancer in April, aged 62 – was that she was moving in new directions. She had written straight drama – Housewife, 49; Loving Miss Hatto – with terrific results.
‘What was great with Vic was that, while most people would hold on to the thing that made them successful, she would get bored and move on to something else.’
While there’s no comedy on the horizon for Julie, there is talk of her reprising the role of Mrs Keogh, the strict landlady from this year’s hit film Brooklyn, in a BBC spin-off.
Before that she is touring Britain’s coastline by train for a travelogue to be shown on C4.
Some actors might find playing themselves too exposing, but Julie has no such fears. ‘Oh God, no.
I’m fine with that. It’s interesting and I love talking to people and finding out what they do.’
She darts a mischievous look: ‘It’s going to be fun, fun, fun.’
is previewed on pages 58-59
Innocent or guilty? The Finchley family’s angst is played out in public
Julie with husband Grant