A NEW psychological thriller in which a young woman’s life is turned upside down when her mother commits suicide stars award-winning Cuckfield actress Tara Fitzgerald.
The gripping six-part drama, due to start on BBC1 on February 2, has been created and written by Kris Mrksa, who said the plot was inspired by the loss of his mother as a child. “Losing a parent is a loss that strikes at one’s identity,” he says.
Lydia Wilson plays rising cello star Matilda Gray, who is left grief-stricken after her mother commits suicide, 23 years after a toddler disappeared from a small Welsh village, never to be seen again.
Among her mother’s possessions, Matilda discovers tantalising evidence that links her mother to the Welsh girl’s disappearance all those years ago.
And so grief-stricken Matilda travels to Wales, determined to explore this mystery. There, she encounters local antiques dealer Sylvia Walsh, played by Tara, who lives a seemingly quiet life in Penllynith, making her money from plundering deceased estates for items that could be restored and sold on. Her obsession with historical artefacts hides a much deeper fascination with the past.
“Sylvia’s a very rare bird,” says Tara, who has starred in Games of Thrones, Strike and Waking the Dead on television. “She is very original and idiosyncratic, but also slightly enigmatic. Part of the pieces is to do with things not being what they first appear to be – and that sums up Sylvia. She is driven by her calling and believes in that intensely. It is her vocation.”
Directed by Mahalia Belo, the drama also stars Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey’s valet Mr Bates, Joel Fry from TV’s Plebs and Game of Thrones, BAFTA-nominated actress Claire Rushbrook, who appeared in My Mad Fat Diary and Mike Leigh’s 1996 movie Secrets & Lies, Richard Harrington, who played Captain Andrew Blamey in Poldark, Joanna Scanlan, who appeared as Cathy in 2016’s Bridget Jones’s Baby, Peaky Blinders actor Sam Hazeldine and Clare Calbraith, who has appeared in Downton Abbey, The Shadow Line and Home Fires on television.
Kris, who was the lead writer on the miniseries The Slap, threw his urbane London protagonists into “a remote part of the UK that was a stark contrast to London” so that they feel like “fish out of water”.
“[Wales] has a mystical feel, and the history there is very palpable,” he says. “There is a druidic vibe there, too. The Welsh town becomes a character in its own right. It’s the perfect setting for this drama.”
As Matilda uncovers long buried secrets in this remote community – including one secret more bizarre, terrifying and dangerous than anything she could have imagined – dark otherworldly forces are gathering after waiting many years for her to arrive.
“I’ve always been an enormous fan of the more low-key, psychological horror thrillers that toy with the audience’s psyche, and the protagonist’s psyche,” explains Kris. “I’m very much aiming to unsettle people.. I hope I have created something haunting and disturbing. I want to cause lasting disquiet.”
In fact, filming left its young star Lydia an emotional wreck, she has revealed. “Because Matilda is a state of shock, her skin is very thin,” says Lydia, who made her film debut in Never Let Me Go in 2010 and also starred in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond as well as Misfits and Ripper Street on television. “She doesn’t know who she is, and that has taken off a layer of her skin and put her at the mercy of the world. I didn’t realise that until I had a week off in the middle of filming. During that week, when I wasn’t so vulnerable, I remember thinking, ‘Why am I crying?’”
Tara describes why she was so drawn to Requiem when she first read the script. “It’s very rare to read something of that complexity and intelligence and originality, which is peppered with these extraordinary characters who all feel completely authentic,” she says.
“They all have very strong drives. The story has so much to say. The great thing about Kris’s writing is that he doesn’t seem to judge his characters. He is also prepared to examine things that a lot of other writers are perhaps afraid of. He’s an outstanding writer.
“The scripts have very strong female roles which are not dependent on anyone else for their identity. One of the themes of the drama is the search for identity. Matilda is on a quest for her identity, but Sylvia already has a very strong sense of who she is – even if it’s incorrect.”
She adds, “Even if we say we are not, we are all fascinated by the possibility of another dimension. The mystery of life is riveting. We are all searching for the answers to the Great Unknowns. It’s a very human quest: Why are we here? Where are we? We are always trying to explain and rationalise things – that’s a human impulse.
“Science will take us to a certain point, and were relieved about that. But then something else will leap out of the bottle, and we can’t explain it. In Requiem, Matilda is searching for her identity. But on a larger level, it’s about how we are all looking for our place in the universe.
“I hope when people watch it, they will be very intrigued and entertained, and I also hope they will be moved and fascinated and ask questions. I really hope it makes people curious. I hope it makes them wonder, ‘What does it all mean?’”
Requiem starts at 9pm on Friday February 2 on BBC1.
Above and below: Lydia Wilson plays cello player Matilda in Requiem/pictures: BBC/New Pictures/Todd Antony and Adrian Rogers
Main picture, top: Tara Fitzgerald as Sylvia Walsh in Requiem/picture: BBC/New Pictures/Todd Antony
Above: Brendan Coyle plays Stephen Kendrick in Requiem/picture: BBC/New Pictures/Adrian Rogers
Below: a scene from Requiem (l-r) Claire Rushbrook as Rose, Richard Harrington as Aron, Lydia Wilson as Matilda and Joel Fry as Hal/picture: BBC/New Pictures/Simon Ridgway
Above: Joanna Scanlan as Janice in Requiem/picture: BBC/New Pictures/Todd Antony
Below: Clare Calbraith as Graves in Requiem/picture: BBC/New Pictures/Todd Antony
Above: Sam Hazeldine as Sean in Requiem/picture: BBC/New Pictures/Todd Antony
Below: Richard Harrington as Aron in Requiem/picture: BBC/New Pictures/Todd Antony