Anna Friel stars in Butterfly, a drama about a family in crisis
‘when I heard about the bullying these children received I was flabbergasted’
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.’
ANNA FRIEL AND CALLUM BOOTH-FORD AS VICKY AND MAX/MAXINE
MAX/MAXINE, VICKY AND STEPHEN (EMMETT J SCANLAN)
THE DUFFY FAMILY REACT DIFFERENTLY TO MAX/MAXINE’S CHOICE