Coming in from cold
FESTIVE CHOICE: Restless, Thursday, BBC1, 9pm.
T’S been a busy year for Hayley Atwell. She’s filmed an episode of Charlie Brooker’s returning Black Mirror, a series called Life of Crime about the police force, and a biopic about Jimi Hendrix in which she plays his “hellraising girlfriend”.
All are out next year, but we can see her sooner in period spy thriller Restless, an adaptation of the William Boyd novel of the same name.
Atwell, known for her roles in Any Human Heart and Captain America, plays Eva Delectorskaya, a beautiful Russian emigrant to Britain who gets scouted for the Secret Service by spy chief Lucas Romer (played by Rufus Sewell) after she discovers her brother was killed by the German secret service.
“At the start of the story she’s plucked from a very vulnerable situation of losing someone close to her and is offered the opportunity to have a different kind of life. It’s new, exciting and scary,” Atwell says.
Eva soon becomes professionally and romantically involved with Lucas but, when a spy mission in the US goes horribly wrong, she has to go underground and on the run.
Boyd, who adapted the book for screen himself, had a hand in casting Atwell as his Eva after they met on the set of his other adaptation, the Bafta-winning Any Human Heart.
“I had spent time with William Boyd and his wife on set and perhaps out of that relationship he thought of me for Restless,” Atwell explains. “It did feel that I was his first choice for Eva but of course, it had to go through the producers and director who ultimately made that decision.
“Eva is a fighter but deeply emotional so I had to retain her emotional core as she transforms herself from one identity to another. I loved that her beauty is secondary to her skill and ability.”
Restless, a two-part drama, looks beautiful, but Atwell admits the role was challenging, especially as they filmed in the cold of a South African winter.
“When you are working in very cold conditions, trekking through wilderness or pushing a car down a ravine, what you really want is warmth and comfort,” she says. “So I was cold most of the time on set. There were hot water bottles on standby. Once I saw the film though, I had forgotten much of that and was swept away by the story and its beautiful visual style.”
Thanks to the magic of television production, South Africa stands in for the many different countries Eva finds herself in, as Atwell explains: “It is an extraordinary place, disguised in the film as Paris, Belgium, London, New York, Germany and Albuquerque and Canada. It was like the twilight zone.”
In her opinion, Restless is the perfect drama for the Christmas period.
“It’s on at the most magical time of year where hopefully most viewers are well fed and warm and wanting a story to get lost in. It’ll be a wonderful Christmas treat,” she said.
GONE TO GROUND: Hayley Atwell as Eva Delectorskaya, the spy on the run.