sunday / BBC1
I love a lavish period drama and this new adaptation of the EM Forster novel definitely fits the bill. Its stars Matthew Macfadyen and Hayley Atwell talk to us about the tale of romance and class conflict – just the thing for wintry nights…
At the gloriously old-fashioned London restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand, TV Times has stepped back into the past.
We’re on set for BBC1’S lavish four-part adaptation of Howards End, EM Forster’s 1910 novel about class division, and we’re watching Hayley
Atwell and a hirsute
Matthew Macfadyen dining in Edwardian garb as social tensions simmer.
The drama centres on Hayley’s character, forward-thinking intellectual Margaret
Schlegel, whose family becomes embroiled with that of wealthy Henry
Wilcox, played by Matthew.
Margaret forges a friendship with Henry’s beloved wife Ruth (Julia Ormond), who adores her country home Howards End, then, following a tragedy, Henry and Margaret grow closer.
However, a dark chain of events that also draws in the Schlegels’ lower-class friend Leonard Bast (Joseph Quinn) causes conflict.
Here, Ripper Street star Matthew, 43, and Agent Carter’s Hayley, 35, reveal all…
How would you describe the characters you play?
Hayley: Margaret is an eccentric character and has a wonderful warmth. Although she’s an independent thinker, she’s disillusioned because she feels she can talk about social affairs, but not do anything about them. She’s searching for her place in the world. Matthew: Henry’s one of those manly men who isn’t prone to bouts of introspection or navelgazing or talking about feelings.
He’s confident and pig-headed. What’s their relationship like? Matthew: Henry doesn’t have the tools that Margaret has to deal with the complex situations that arise; he gets frightened. They’re probably not a natural match. Hayley: They have a different set of values and it begins as something that isn’t rational and she doesn’t understand it herself because she has self-awareness and he’s emotionally constipated, but she ultimately finds that endearing because his intentions are good.
How important is class to the drama? Matthew: Hugely.
It’s about sex, money, power and how people operate in society – and that doesn’t go out of fashion, does it? Hayley: It brings up some interesting questions because you have capitalists with a drive for power and people at the lower end who know their place. Margaret wants everyone to connect so things eventually become classless.
Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson played Henry and Margaret in the 1992 film of the book. Did you have any qualms about stepping into their shoes? Hayley: No, but I wrote an email to Emma, who played my mum in [2008 film] Brideshead Revisited, and said, ‘They are doing the impossible because you are the definitive Margaret.’ But she told me not to watch anyone else doing it and gave me some wonderful advice. I didn’t feel daunted – it’s an amazing opportunity and we feel safe walking a well-trod path.
Matthew: Yes, I think you only ever feel thrilled to be doing the part and if wonderful people have played it before it’s comforting to follow their footsteps.
And finally, Matthew, we have to ask about your beard
– is it all your own?!
Matthew: Ha ha!
Well in the early days it wasn’t as lustrous as now so I spent a lot of time in the make-up chair because they had to help it along with individual hairs attached with glue. But after filming, the beard is coming off. My children are getting worried about it!
It’s about sex, money, power – and that doesn’t go out of fashion, does it? Matthew Macfadyen
Em Forster’s classic novel Worlds collide: a tense family dinner…