JEMMA RED­GRAVE

Why the Holby City ac­tress slowed down the #BERENA ro­mance

Diva (UK) - - Contents -

“From the be­gin­ning, peo­ple were re­ally root­ing for #Berena and ask­ing the writ­ers to make it hap­pen”

When Ma­jor Bernie Wolfe hit Holby City’s wards, a cer­tain group of view­ers snapped to at­ten­tion. The mav­er­ick trauma sur­geon had been air­lifted out of Afghanistan and was mum­bling about a col­league called Alex. Gen­der neu­tral name? Con­spic­u­ous lack of pro­nouns? Sud­den re­luc­tance to be in the same room as the hand­some doc­tor hus­band she hasn’t seen in months? It could only mean one thing. When Alex showed up – played by Heather Peace, no less – Bernie and her back­story came tum­bling out of the closet, but the re­la­tion­ship that re­ally caught view­ers’ at­ten­tion was with Ser­ena Camp­bell, the Shi­raz-swill­ing, seem­ingly-hetero con­sul­tant, fond of telling Bernie how ter­rific she is.

While most shows can’t put two am­bi­tious women in the same room with­out turn­ing them into ri­vals, Bernie and Ser­ena bonded from the start, and ac­tress Jemma Red­grave was happy to step out of her scrubs (prob­a­bly not literally – we didn’t ask) and talk about why #Berena is still so ground­break­ing.

“What’s re­ally been lovely is to build a friend­ship, and a friend­ship be­tween two women of a cer­tain age who are both pro­fes­sional women, who have a shared lan­guage. That was re­ally easy for Cather­ine and I, be­cause we had that shared lan­guage any­way. They re­ally like each other and sup­port each other and ev­ery­thing comes from that. Any­thing that hap­pens be­yond that is luck, but I think the chem­istry is very good.”

From the start, both Jemma and Cather­ine knew where their on­screen friend­ship was headed but wanted to let things take their time. “I think it was quite or­ganic. We were aware which way it was go­ing to go, but I think be­cause it’s played out in real time we were very care­ful from the very be­gin­ning not to let it feel forced. Early on, a few di­rec­tors said, ‘Oh, let’s just get that long­ing look in,’ but we felt it was early days and we didn’t want to rush it.” Fans might dis­agree – from Bernie’s first episodes, the hash­tag #Berena started to show up on so­cial me­dia, and by the time the two kissed at the end of Au­gust it was trend­ing on Twitter.

“From the be­gin­ning of the friend­ship, peo­ple were re­ally root­ing for it and ask­ing the writ­ers to make it hap­pen. We were sur­prised, be­cause peo­ple caught on be­fore we even re­ally started to play it!” Clearly you just can’t sup­press that level of sex­ual chem­istry. And while this is new ter­ri­tory for Ser­ena – de­spite an at­tempt to play it cool with a story about once hav­ing kissed a girl at a party in Step­ney – Bernie has been es­tab­lished as queer early on. “I don’t la­bel her, I don’t know if she la­bels her­self. What I’ve al­ways thought is that she grew up in a con­ven­tional fam­ily, prob­a­bly a mil­i­tary one, and it was very dif­fi­cult for her to ex­plore her sex­u­al­ity in a way the she might have done if she was grow­ing up now. I think the big rev­e­la­tion of her life was fall­ing in love with Alex, and now with Ser­ena.”

And what about Bernie’s first love? Will we see Alex again? “I hope so,” Jemma en­thuses. “I think Heather’s fan­tas­tic, I love work­ing with her. I hope she does, but I’ve no idea.”

The show’s pro­duc­ers have ad­mit­ted that they based Bernie on one of Jemma’s other char­ac­ters – Doc­tor Who fan-favourite, the no-non­sense head of UNIT, Kate Leth­bridge Ste­wart – and Jemma has been en­joy­ing her new sci-fi fan­base. “I had no idea be­fore that there was such a com­mu­nity, and when you be­come part of the fab­ric of the show, you’re adopted by a com­mu­nity and they’ve been in­cred­i­bly warm and gen­er­ous. And the won­der­ful thing is that for a gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren, I will never age!”

Jemma’s on-screen fem­i­nist cre­den­tials are long­stand­ing – her break­out per­for­mance in the 1990s was as an­other doc­tor, strong-minded Vic­to­rian proto-fem­i­nist Eleanor Bramwell (in ITV mini-se­ries Bramwell), and women’s rights are clearly an is­sue im­por­tant to her. “It was an out­stand­ing part in an out­stand­ing se­ries, this woman fight­ing against pa­tri­ar­chal op­pres­sion and that struck a chord with a lot of young women at the time. Even now, we’ve got a woman [Hil­lary Clin­ton] try­ing to smash the high­est glass ceil­ing in the world; equal­ity is still some­thing that we’re strug­gling to­wards.”

It’s one of the things that makes Holby such a re­fresh­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, she says. “There aren’t so many re­la­tion­ships be­tween women of our age, so it’s been huge and quite over­whelm­ing that there’s been such an in­cred­i­ble re­sponse.

With Bernie flee­ing Holby af­ter Ser­ena con­fesses her feel­ings, is this the last we’ve seen of Ma­jor Wolfe?

“I know a lot of les­bian sto­ry­lines are quite tragic, but we don’t want to do that,” she prom­ises. While Bernie has been off deal­ing with her feel­ings for Ser­ena, Jemma was road­trip­ping around Amer­ica with her fam­ily – and since she was fresh off the set when we spoke, it’s safe to say that Bernie will be back.

Catch Holby City on BBC1, Tues­days at 8pm.

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