‘The serial bigamy of my
IT CAN be uncomfortable to have your family watch your creative efforts on screen. But it can be doubly awkward if the subject is your own grandfather – and, in this case, a complete bounder – and you invite your close relatives along to a central London screening.
But leading British actress Ruth Wilson, star of HBO’s The Affair and the BBC’s hit show Luther, presented her series Mrs Wilson to journalists and family at an exclusive screening which could have doubled as a family reunion. After the first episode, which was given the seal of approval by her father and uncle, Ruth talked frankly about developing a project based on her grandmother’s memoir, which exposed the serial bigamy of her husband Alexander Wilson.
She says: “The drama came together organically. I would tell various people the story and they all said to me, ‘You’ve got to get this made’. I didn’t necessarily want to get it made but it was an amazing story and the more I told it, the more it became fascinating and the more things we kept finding out about my grandfather.”
Ruth set about approaching producers to see if the extraordinary story could reach a wider audience on screen. Her grandmother Alison Wilson had written at great length about her experiences during the Second World War, her relationship with Alex, his death and her ultimate embrace of religion.
Ruth explains: “Then I met Neil Blair [Mrs Wilson’s executive producer] just randomly after a theatre show, who said to me we could get the books published but we could also make a drama out of this.”
Her grandmother’s vivid autobiography would form the heart of the drama.
“We had this memoir that my grandmother had written, which was really the emotional truth of the story and from a female perspective, too. It made sense that if you focused on her, you could still tell his story but through her eyes.”
Writer Anna Symon was enlisted and the project was under way.
Wilson says: “We needed someone who had a journalistic air about them. Someone who would make it into a thriller about who this man was. But also, someone who had an emotional attachment to Alison and all of the members of the family. When we met Anna Symon, she had such a clear perspective on the story. She had so much empathy for Alison Wilson and understood the responsibility that went with it.”
The story begins when Alison Wilson opens the front door to another Mrs Wilson. This Mrs
Wilson – Gladys – believes she is still married to Alison’s husband, the former spy-turned-espionage thriller writer, and there are more revelations to come.
When did Ruth Wilson first learn
‘In reality my grandmother only knew about one wife. Thank God she didn’t know about the other two’
about her grandmother’s memoir? “She passed the first part of the memoir to me, my father and his brother when I was 15. Then, my grandmother only knew about one further wife.”
That other wife was Gladys Wilson, and Alexander, to whom she was still officially married, explained his absence by telling her he was living in digs in London.
RUTH WILSON continues: “My grandmother only allowed the second part of the memoir to be published when she died. Then we found out more about my grandfather, that he was a spy, his work. That is shown in episode three. In reality she only knew about one wife. Thank God she didn’t know about the other two.
“A year after she died, we then had correspondence to my uncle from two more people who thought they had the same father [Alexander Wilson]. So in the drama, we’ve amalgamated truth with what my grandmother Alice wrote in her memoir. But the book was the inspiration for the drama. It took about three years to bring the whole thing to the screen.”
Ruth, born in Ashford, Kent, and educated at Nottingham University, turns in a pinpoint performance as her grandmother, channelling the indignity of the situation while trying
FAMILY SECRETS: Ruth Wilson plays her ow