The Street: Frances Barber plays Lizzie

Frances Barber, one of our best-loved TV actresses, was delighted to accept the offer to play Lizzie in the first episode of The Street.

Lizzie is the hard-working, courageous wife of a publican called Paddy (Bob Hoskins). She supports him to the hilt as he resolutely stands up to Miller (Liam Cunningham), a thuggish, bullying gangster, in a question of honour.

“I had no hesitation in taking this role,” beams Frances, who has starred in pieces as varied as Funland, Hustle, King Lear and Beautiful People.

“The Street is quite simply one of the best things on television! The proof of that is that attracts the starriest casts. People like Jim Broadbent and Bob Hoskins, who don’t usually do TV, are eager to appear in it.”

Frances runs through the strengths of this particular episode: “It’s a compelling drama. It’s set in a pub which is an archetypal centre of the community. It’s no surprise that The Rovers Return and the Queen Vic are at the centre of Coronation Street and EastEnders. When I was a student, I worked in our local in Wolverhampton and it was hub of the estate. The pub that Paddy and Lizzie run is exactly the same.”

The actress describes her character: “Lizzie and Paddy are the lynchpins of their community. They have built up a lot of respect in their neighbourhood because they run a good ship. It’s a great partnership. But everything is jeopardised when the stand-off happens between Paddy and Miller. It’s High Noon in Manchester!

“You know those stories you read about feuds between neighbours where a hedge grows out of control and they end up nearly killing each other? This is a similar situation. It’s a puny bit of nonsense that soon escalates into something enormous. Because Paddy and Miller are not middle-class they don’t sort it out in court, instead, they get baseball bats! It ends up like Shane, neither of them can back down.”

Frances adds that, throughout the dispute, “Lizzie is very practical. She intervenes and tries to talk to Miller’s wife. Because it’s Jimmy’s writing, there are lots of marvellous comic elements, too. For example, Eddie (Timothy Spall) says he’ll help Paddy, but he’s hopeless!”

Another attraction for Frances was the chance to collaborate with David Blair, a director she has long admired.

“I’ve always wanted to work with David, and he has exceeded my expectations. He is fantastic with actors and has a wonderful, filmic vision and an astonishing eye for detail. That is amazing when you’re having to shoot five or six pages a day. He makes you feel there is all the time in the world for the tiniest detail which takes the scene in a different direction.

“For instance, in one scene, Bob and I were walking towards the pub knowing there was going to be a huge fight with Miller, and David suggested, ‘why don’t you take his arm?’ It’s the smallest thing, but it says a lot.”

Frances goes on to pay tribute to Jimmy McGovern, the creative genius behind The Street.

“There is no question that Jimmy is one of the finest writers currently working in television,” she enthuses.

“When you work on one of his scripts, you truly appreciate the strength of his writing. His scripts are very spare – there’s no fat on them. Every line is needed.

“He also writes characters we can all identify with. Walking around the streets of Manchester, you hear people being naturally funny. Jimmy captures that precisely, and that’s why we recognise his characters. It’s been a privilege to work on The Street.”

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