Hope Springs

A calculated bully with nerves of steel and endless reserves of masculine charm, Euan Harries is a businessman who absolutely wants his cake and to eat it.

“There’s a menace abut him and I’d say he’s derived from the same stock as someone like JR Ewing,” says Alec Newman of his Hope Springs alter-ego.

“The sense of community in Hope Springs makes it feel a lot like a western at times, the way the town is set up. So, if he’s a JR-type of guy and Dallas was the Texan oil Wild West, then Hope Springs is definitely a kind of Scottish Wild West scenario – it’s good fun to think of it in that way. Because you never know with this whether you’re going to get a gag or find out another horrible dark secret. This show skates several different genres. I don’t think you could call it a comedy-drama because there’s something dark at the heart of it all.”

Euan wants to keep up his respectable front with his subservient wife Ina (Lorraine McIntosh) whilst having secret flings on the side. When his long-standing affair with Ann Marie (Ronni Ancona) became problematic he displayed a ruthless self-interest and walked away. Hope Springs’ bullish lawyer is a man who won’t be told what to do by anyone, especially not a woman.

“He’s a character who has a real function in the village but is also a lot of fun to play. Behind everything with Euan there’s something very heinous going on. There’s a thread that’s an undercurrent of menace running through the whole of the Hope Springs series and much of it is as result of his actions.”

Euan dominates all his relationships, from his bullied wife and son Ronan (played by Tony McGeever) to his illicit relationship with Ann Marie. A man whose public face is cool, calm and capable, Euan prides himself on keeping his head about him when everyone else is losing theirs.

“Euan’s very quick and can look at a situation and in a split second he can make a judgement about what to do in order to get what he wants. I think he sees himself as a bit of a tycoon as well. But he’s a big fish in a very small pond and meets his match three or four times over when the girls arrive in the village,” reveals Alec, who admits his character isn’t exactly chuffed when Ellie’s (Alex Kingston) gang make themselves at home on his turf.

“He’s the antithesis of a warm welcome – he immediately greets them with suspicion. This is a guy who has to be in control of everyone and everything around him, but he doesn’t have that control over these newcomers and he doesn’t like that.

“To be in control is to have information and so his first mission is to find out who they are. For a start he doesn’t believe their story, that’s clear from the outset.”

For the Glasgow-born actor, brought up in Berkshire and until recently based in Los Angeles, filming Hope Springs has made him begin to consider where he will be wanting to call home in the future.

“I must be getting older because I’ve been wondering recently where I might end up – and I now have it in my head that it might be here in Scotland. That it might be in a small house somewhere really remote and surrounded by beautiful countryside,” he ponders.

“But I don’t think I could live somewhere as remote as Hope Springs or Wanlochhead, where the show is filmed. Although I do think the place is one of the stars of the show in a way, because it’s such a weird kind of place anyway,” he adds.

“I think David Lynch would have absolutely brilliant time there [Wanlockhead]. The actual locale itself provides a correct kind of energy for the identity of the show. It’s not like Hamish Macbeth, and it’s certainly not Monarch Of The Glen there. It’s much more like Twin Peaks!”

 

The local policeman caught between two women, handsome detective inspector Gil Cameron – played by The Thick Of It actor Paul Higgins – is a troubled guy who has a sense of failure haunting him over the unsolved murder of a local girl. A man of high moral integrity, he is generally respected by the locals, has a deep hatred of any injustice and trusts his own judgement of character above everything else.

“Gil tries to be the good guy of the village, but his big failure is that this young girl [Katie] was murdered in his area of responsibility and he hasn’t really made any progress on finding her killer. That’s what really troubles him,” says Paul.

“This is a young girl that he knew and, whilst he has a few ideas about her death that turn out to be wrong, he hasn’t got any evidence yet and he’s pretty much in the dark about what really happened. Gil’s very keen to put that right somehow but I don’t think even he knows how he’s going to do it. He’s a bit too trusting to be a really good policeman, I reckon.

“He’s certainly very different to Jamie, the character I played in The Thick Of It. For a start, Gil’s good-hearted and always trying to do the right thing and I don’t think you could ever say that Jamie was any of those things. Jamie would’ve probably solved the murder by now. He’d probably have beaten it out of somebody. It’s likely he would’ve got the wrong person, but there’s no doubt he’d get a confession.”

Gil’s engaged to be married to the village sweetheart Ann Marie (played by Ronni Ancona) but theirs isn’t a perfect relationship. She seduced him when he was feeling lonely and, unbeknown to him, had her own secret affair with local bad boy Euan Harries (Alec Newman).

And now Ann Marie’s pregnant and Gil naturally assumes he’s the father so he’s done the honourable thing and proposed to Ann Marie, even although he knows in his heart of hearts he doesn’t love her. However, he does love the prospect of being a dad at long last. But then Ellie (Alex Kingston) walks into his life and knocks Gil sideways.

“There’s no way that Gil is in love with Ann Marie, but I think he’s persuaded himself that he’s in love with her,” reveals Paul. “She’s a very attractive woman, she’s pregnant with his child and so he’s going to do the right thing.

“He’s nearly 40, he’s never settled down or got married so he probably thinks this is the natural next step. I can relate to him on that score. I think most of us have been in relationships where you kid yourself things are okay, when they very clearly aren’t. Basically Hope Springs is a wee village and they are two single people of a certain age. There’s not much choice of potential partners to be honest, so maybe he thought there was an inevitability they would end up together. But then these exotic, glamorous women arrive in the village and he gets his head turned.

“Because he comes from this little tiny place he hasn’t met anyone like Ellie before – she’s different and exciting and she’s on his wavelength or, at least, so he thinks. Clearly he doesn’t know she has all these secrets. If he did then obviously he’d realise that maybe she’s not a very suitable partner for him.

“For Ellie, I suppose Gil’s very different to the men she’s known in the past – he’s honest for a start. But the problem is she will always have this secret that she can never tell him.”

Whilst Gil may enjoy the more relaxed pace of country life, Paul admits Hope Springs wouldn’t be his first choice of abode.

“I couldn’t live somewhere like that and I never will, I hope,” he says, with a grin. “My in-laws have a house in a little village in Wiltshire where I’ve spent a lot of time, which is lovely. These places are nice to visit and I’m fine for a couple of days, but then I want to go to the cinema or a restaurant or something like that and there’s nowhere.

“Wanlockhead where we filmed on location is lovely, but there isn’t even a shop. I would hate not being able to pop out and get a paper or a pint of milk. Although it has got a pub, so I think if I was forced to live somewhere like that I’d be in the pub rather a lot!” laughs Paul.

The women have a rival in Ann Marie. In fact, she could be described as their nemesis as she harbours serious doubts about their true identity especially when sees her nice-guy fiance Gil (Paul Higgins) growing ever closer to Ellie (Alex Kingston).

Immaculately turned out, Ann Marie’s the local wannabe china doll and village sweetheart, but she’s brittle with it. Owner of the local hair salon and beauty parlour, The Kiss Kurl, she knows how to make the most of herself in the looks department. But, despite all this, she still has a deep rooted sense of insecurity and is especially intimidated by the confident and self-assured Ellie.

“Ann Marie is very threatened by these girls because before they rocked up she was the sophisticated one and the so-called glamorous one in the village. Then, suddenly, this group of sassy, sussed Londoners appear wearing the right thing and they’ve got this other-worldly confidence and attitude and she’s threatened by that,” suggests Ronni.

Although she’s in a relationship with Gil, Anne Marie was happily seduced by village bad-boy Euan (Alec Newman), enjoying a secret affair. And now Ann Marie’s pregnant and doesn’t know for sure who the father is, although she secretly believes it’s Euan.

“She’s engaged to Gil but it soon becomes apparent she’s had an affair with Euan, played quite superbly by Alec Newman, who is a genuinely nasty piece of work. When Ann Marie and Euan are together they have a very interesting dynamic, because you feel as if they deserve each other. There’s a frisson between them with a really nasty kind of edge.

“I wouldn’t even say she fancies him, I’d say she’s repelled and disgusted by him. But there’s something quite electric going on between them and I do also think she’s genuinely frightened of him and scared of him. There’s definitely a cat-and-mouse power struggle going on between those two which is an interesting dynamic and, of course, for many people there’s a very thin line between hate and passion.

“But Ann Marie’s catch is definitely Gil. She really loved Gil, she really wanted Gil and it all seemed so simple and straightforward. But then it transpired that the baby she’s carrying could be Euan’s or Gil’s and that changed things for her. So it’s all very dramatic and Ann Marie becomes very much a woman on the edge.

“In some ways Ann Marie could be seen as the villainess of Hope Springs. But what’s quite interesting about this show is actually who can say who the villainesses are, because Ann Marie isn’t a convicted criminal. She hasn’t been to prison whereas the other women have criminal records. But I’m trying not to play her as a villainess because that’s too cliched and one-dimensional. I want her to come across as a multifaceted person so I keep reminding myself that Anne Marie just sees life through her own eyes.

“She can’t empathise with other people’s problems. It’s not like she’s wicked, evil or even malevolent. She’s just blinkered to what her path is and what she wants. Yes, she’ll use people to get there, which I suppose is a little bit wicked. But she’s never been inside unlike the others and she’s never broken the law, so there’s some irony there compared to what’s going on with the other characters.”

Through Gil (once he gets his police promotion), Ann Marie sees an opportunity to escape Hope Springs, to live in Edinburgh and finally put her unpleasant relationships with former lover Euan and her eccentric mother Sadie (Annette Crosbie) behind her.

“Ann Marie can be a bit of a bitch at times, but she’s also extremely vulnerable and I’ve really concentrated on that. I like to say to everybody that she’s misunderstood and she is.

“I don’t think she ever knew her dad, she has a very rocky relationship with her mother Sadie – who was not a good mother – and generally life hasn’t been a bed of roses for her. So I think Anne Marie just feels very alone.

“She has aspirations and illusions of grandeur, but she feels trapped and suffocated in this little village. She’s definitely a townie stuck out in the countryside. She’s stuck there, she’s deeply miserable and she wants to break out. I have tried to look at her as a kind of caged bird that wants to break free.”

So could Ronni herself ever imagine living somewhere as remote as Hope Springs? “No! No! No! Have you got that?” laughs Ronni. “No! We sometimes go and stay in a wee village in the country and it’s absolutely glorious and lovely and I can see there are some huge advantages to living somewhere like that.

“There are some lovely plus points – a real community, people look out for each other and children can be a lot freer and safer.”

Whilst the Ayrshire-born comedienne and actress may currently be focusing on drama roles, she did manage to entertain the cast and crew of Hope Springs with a few impressions during rehearsals.

She says: “I really don’t like doing impressions very much when people ask me to as I find it a bit embarrassing. So the only person I do impressions with on this is Alec Newman, who is a phenomenal impressionist.

“The two of us have a lot of scenes together so we’ll always do whatever scene we’re doing in an American accent and then we’ll usually recast the big movie version of Hope Springs. So last week we did it as Renee Zellweger and Christopher Walken doing a scene together, followed by Julia Roberts and Ian McKellen. It was hilarious – we’ll have to add those on as extras when the DVD comes out!”

Local fount of all knowledge (and gossip), Sadie’s life gets entangled with the women’s soon after their arrival in the village when they turn up at her hotel looking for a bed for the night.

At 70 years of age, running The Hope Springs Hotel is no mean feat, even if Sadie could be bothered to make the effort to do it properly. It’s infested with mice and the cobwebbed bar hasn’t seen a duster in living memory, so when Ellie and the girls pitch up and offer to buy Sadie out she sees them as guardian angels opening the door to a very happy retirement. They can take on all the responsibility and do all the hard work whilst she’ll carry on living in the pub and enjoying their company – and drinking their booze. It’s a win/win situation.

“Basically Sadie is attempting to run the hotel on her own with no help and at first when this rather unlikely group of women come tottering into the village, she doesn’t know what to make of them,” explains Annette, who plays the Hope Springs busy-body.

“But then after a while it looks like they’re going to liven the old place up and it soon becomes clear they’re going to be good news for her especially. When they offer to take the thing off her hands she really can’t believe her luck.”

A vision in denim and chunky knits, Sadie’s no fool and can play the con as readily as these crims from down South. Like them, Sadie’s a survivor. She’s also wily, opinionated, idle and fit as a fiddle. “Is there any of Sadie in me? Oh there is now,” admits Annette, laughing. “I’m certainly not idle but otherwise there are facets of me, definitely, that’s what the audience are getting.”

Sadie soon positions herself as part of the gang and, together with Ellie (Alex Kingston), Hannah (Sian Reeves), Shoo (Christine Bottomley) and Josie (Vinette Robinson), she finds a true family.

This is in stark contrast to her antagonistic relationship with her own daughter Ann Marie (played by Ronni Ancona). Ann Marie sees her mother as difficult and troublesome, Sadie sees Ann Marie as manipulative and a user. There’s no love lost between mother and daughter. So it’s through the girls that Sadie’s lonely life is transformed.

“One has to assume that Sadie and Ann Marie have never got on. But the things they both dislike about each other are actually their similarities. Neither of them will give in and they both think they are right.

“I think it’s quite usual for family members not to see eye to eye. My parents, God rest their souls, were experts at falling out with every other member of the family. By the time I left home at 19 they weren’t speaking to anybody. Either we weren’t speaking to them or the ones we were speaking to lived too far away so we never saw them anyway.”

For the respected Scottish actress – who began her career with the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre Company in 1956 – one of the perks of signing up for Hope Springs was a chance for her to rediscover her roots.

“I suppose, if I’m honest, the first thing that attracted me was that it was going to be done in Scotland and it has been great to be back especially as we are filming in Glasgow.

“It’s so comforting to be around the accent and the people, because ultimately Scotland is my home. I don’t think that ever changes wherever I live and as you get older the call to go back gets stronger and stronger. Not for some people. They are glad to move away and stay away. The further away the better. But for me, well I’m just a wee homebody.”

Despite a career on screen and in the theatre that spans over 50 years – and includes the likes of The Slipper And The Rose, Calendar Girls and, of course, One Foot In The Grave – Hope Springs marks a first for Annette.

“I have never done a series quite like this before. Hope Springs is not trying to be realistic or a heavy drama – it has just been great fun. The joy of this story is that it keeps swinging. You keep thinking that everything is going well and then, wow, things take a turn for the worst. It’s a wild and fantastical adventure and pure escapism.

“It has also been great to work with a group of talented actresses and be part of such a strong female drama – which I think is quite a rare thing. And we have all got on well which makes life so much easier.

“That’s one thing you learn as an actor. You have to get on. And as an older actor you have to try and keep the boat steady while you’re in it. It’s an important part of the job. I’ve never been someone who likes to give advice on set because it’s not always welcome.

“I might do something subtly every now and again but I don’t like to assume the role of ‘I’ve been here for nearly 53 years, my dears’. That would just make me feel even older and nearer to popping my clogs than I already am!”

For Josie, life in Hope Springs offers her the unexpected possibility of finally being at peace with herself after years of feeling like an outcast.

A temperamental yet free spirit, she grew up feeling like an outsider in her middle-class, religious family home. On learning his daughter was gay, Josie’s preacher father arranged for an exorcism and her violent reaction saw her parents have her sectioned and disowned her. Shortly afterwards, an emotional Josie clashed with a controlling policeman and the result was a three-year prison stretch for GBH.

“I really like the fact the writers didn’t make her from a stereotypically deprived upbringing,” says Vinette about her Hope Springs character.

“Josie has been through a difficult time, but she still has the morals she was raised with because she was from quite a strong religious background. She definitely does know right from wrong, it’s just that her life has lead her down this different path. She still has a moral conscience, but she gets waylaid sometimes and it’s the tension between these two elements of her character that I find really interesting.”

Jail spelt the end of Josie’s plans to go to university and the educational path she dreamt of has passed her by. As a result, she’s been more accustomed to engaging her fists than her brain. She may not have the degree she wanted, but strong-minded Josie has a PhD in knowing how to stand up for herself.

“When Josie was in prison she decided she wanted a new start and reached the decision to say goodbye to her old life and move on,” explains Vinette. “She still gets into scrapes, hilariously, because her and Shoo just can’t help themselves.

“They are desperately trying to get out of a life of crime, but they inevitably lapse back into it, almost out of habit, when they’re trying to extricate themselves from difficult situations. Josie mostly does this as an emotional reaction to when she recognises that someone’s behaving in a particular way that might be a reminder of her relationship with her dad. She’s slow to anger, but she hates bullies and can’t abide injustice, so once she’s fired up she can often act first and think later.

“Personally I loved filming the scenes where Josie starts scrapping. They are great fun to do and it feels so odd because I am just not like that at all. But she never picks fights in a vigilante way, there’s always a reason behind it. It might not be the best solution but it’s coming from a good place.

“So I’ve been hitting people with metal bars and spades and all sorts of things. It’s not something I would ever normally do so it’s great to be able to be violent in a safe and legal environment. When in normal life do you get permission to do that kind of thing? Not that I want to start hitting people with metal bars, but you know what I mean!” laughs Vinette.

After the confinement of prison, Josie is positively reinvigorated by the outdoor life she’s now got on offer in Hope Springs. Refurbishing the local hotel and pub is a challenge she’s more than happy to rise to, she loves the physical effort required and finally feels she’s found a place where she could truly belong.

“Josie loves the outdoor life and through that she gets back some of the spirituality she lost when she lost her family. When she’s doing her morning hikes across the hills she thrives on being at one with nature. She relishes it and I think perhaps she’s the only one who doesn’t mind that much that they aren’t in Barbados. That was never her end goal. For Josie her end goal was to make a new life for herself and she’s doing just that.

“The other girls in the gang are her new family and I think she sees them as kindred spirits, even though they are a group of completely diverse characters from very different backgrounds. But what unites them, in a way, is that ultimately they are all caring and loving people at their core. Although, of course, they can be ruthless. Very ruthless.

“Don’t get me wrong, they are not soft women at all. I don’t think anyone would describe these women as soft,” laughs Vinette, who hails from Bradford and admits her own close-knit family can’t wait to start enjoying the Hope Springs experience.

“My family are very excited about this one because they’re big fans of all the other shows Shed has done like Bad Girls and Footballers Wives. I think Hope Springs has that similar sense of escapism and fun – it’s pure entertainment so I reckon they’re going to love it.”

Streetwise Shoo is a young woman with more front than Blackpool. Having spent her early life in uncaring care homes, the one thing she yearns for is a family.

“She’s one of those birds you might encounter on a late bus sicking up over herself after a boozy night out,” grins Christine Bottomley who plays the mouthy character. “She’s not exactly a classy bird!

“She’s someone who has been through the mill and is now trying to sort her life out. She’s quite childlike really – she just opens her gob and says what she thinks and the other women almost have to gag her to get her to shut up a lot of the time.

“Considering the situation they are in, you don’t really want a loudmouth like Shoo drawing attention to herself all the time. She’s like the baby of the group and I suppose Ellie is like the stern mother with her. But all the girls look out for Shoo and I’d guess that it’s probably the first time she’s felt that kind of care and love.

“Another way that Shoo ends up drawing attention to herself is her look. She’ll wear anything and everything and her clothes have a very flamboyant and brightly coloured feel. She wears a lot of short skirts which meant I was quite chilly when we were out on location [in Wanlockhead, Scotland], so I had to wear little snippets of thermals everywhere and anywhere I could.

“She also has this horrible itchy jacket which I hate but it’s perfect for Shoo. It’s all sorts of different wool colours – if you can imagine that – and it’s like a big skanky sheep, really fluffy and utterly vile. So just to cheer things up I got every member of the crew to wear it, took a picture of them in it and did a big collage which we put up on the wall by the main set. The boys got really into it – I have to say their poses are much better than the girls!”

In the other women, Shoo has found her much longed for family: motherly Ellie (Alex Kingston), bossy big sister Hannah (Sian Reeves), protective sister Josie (Vinette Robinson) and even a grandma in Sadie (Annette Crosbie).

But the resilience Shoo needed to survive her emotionally-deprived upbringing has also made her selfishly protective – except when it comes to men. Shoo not only has a penchant for bad blokes and losers, she also uses sex as a way to feel loved. Put the two together and you’ve got a dangerous mix.

Jailed for repeatedly shoplifting and the possession of drugs, Shoo’s low self-esteem means that she is easily manipulated by men out to use her for their own means. However, when Dean McKenzie (played by Richard Madden) arrives on the scene, she at last meets – and falls for – a boy who really likes her for herself. He may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but he’s got a good heart in a sexy body – a combo Shoo’s always craved.

“Everyone likes a bad boy to an extent don’t they? Especially Shoo,” muses Christine. “But then she comes to the village and meets Dean and he’s completely different to the blokes she used to go for. He’s a nice Scottish boy and a gentleman.

“At first she’s really gutted when the Barbados plan falls through. She really doesn’t want to be stuck in this pokey village, but as the series develops you’ll see that Shoo goes a bit out of her way to keep them there.

“Slowly but surely she starts to get her head around being in this funny little place. She’d like to stay there with Dean and have a nice straightforward life – but of course, their whole relationship is a lie because he doesn’t know who she really is.”

So, could the Rochdale-born actress ever imagine doing a Shoo and running away to start a new life? She laughs: “No way. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Plus I’d be a rubbish criminal because everyone knows when I’m lying. Weirdly, I’m an actress but I can’t lie to save my life!”

In her own mind, Hannah’s not a “real” criminal – what she did was self-preservation. After years of abuse at the hands of her manipulative and sadistic husband, Hannah cracked and stabbed him with a knife leaving him permanently disabled. It was a shock for her to realise how much anger she had repressed.

“To start with going to prison was a fabulous relief for Hannah, because it meant she could get away from that horror of being on tenterhooks for every second of the day thanks to her controlling husband,” explains Sian Reeves who plays ex-con Hannah.

“Her husband wouldn’t allow her to have any money, she wasn’t allowed any friends and she’d be petrified about doing the wrong thing. She was utterly and totally controlled by him. So to be in prison wouldn’t have been hard for her because she was used to being controlled and told what to do. But at the same time, weirdly, I think prison gave Hannah her freedom,” adds Sian.

“What she likes about Ellie, Shoo and Josie is that everything’s very black and white. For once she knows where she stands.

“Whereas with her husband she had this veiled life for nine years where she never knew if he was going to come home at night and take his day out on her. So there is a terrible tension that is in Hannah and that makes me think this situation they find themselves in – hiding in this village and pretending to be other people – is perhaps the worst situation for someone like Hannah to be in. The stakes are so high, they are constantly looking over their shoulders.”

A coiled spring of buried emotions, Hannah masks this with her sensible demure and wry wit. She has a cautious, rational approach to problem solving, something which is in complete contrast to top dog Ellie’s (Alex Kingston) impetuous, intuitive, school-of-life knowledge.

In the village, Hannah works hard to ensure that the word “legitimate” becomes part of the girls’ vocabularies. For her, the thought of being banged-up again is truly unthinkable. As well as Hannah’s analytical abilities, she has practical domestic skills which are sorely lacking in her three friends. These skills give Hannah a new-found sense of purpose as she quickly finds her place within their new hotel business venture.

“She’s supposed to be a great cook which is a real stretch for me let me tell you,” laughs Sian. “In prison, Hannah was the head of the kitchen which she loved because she was given this respect and people loved her sausage and chips.

“Meanwhile, I’m a terrible chef but, fingers crossed, people will be watching it and thinking I’m Gordon flippin’ Ramsay. Hopefully I’ll be releasing a Hope Springs Cook Book next Christmas,” says Sian, with a smile. “Or maybe not. I’m really good at pretending to cook, but in real life let’s just say it’s not a thing that comes to me naturally.”

According to Sian, the actresses in the Hope Springs gang have become firm friends in real life and she believes this off-screen bond has helped their chemistry when in front of the camera as well.

“It’s very difficult to find that on-screen chemistry and I was very aware of it because of being in Cutting It, where we instantly managed to find a closeness. But I’m glad to say I think we did very quickly find it on Hope Springs as well and I hope that shows when you see us together on screen.

“It is funny when you work on a show like this because when you play a group of characters you’re together all the time,” says Sian. “I said to Alex the other day, ‘I am sick of looking into your eyes… I feel like I’m in love with you!'” she laughs.

“That’s how these awful television romances start between actors, because it’s so intense the amount of time you spend together, you are away from home and you start living this very insular kind of life. Not that I’m in love with Alex Kingston, but it’s like being in a family with someone except there isn’t that normal gradual period of time to get to know people properly.

“So you know lots of surface and lots of quite deep personal things about each other very quickly, that you would never normally share with people you haven’t known for long.

“All of us are very different kinds of people and so are our characters, which I hope will make it very exciting to watch. But even more importantly, on top of all that, I think I’ve made some really great friends.”

Hope Springs marks Sian’s return to series drama following a serious accident whilst rehearsing a stage adaptation of Vernon God Little in November 2007, which left her incapacitated and unable to work.

“I really thought my career was over,” admits the West Bromwich-born actress. “I fell down a trap door onto a steel ladder and punctured my lung and basically broke all around the whole top of my rib cage. As a result I’ve just been lying on my back in a bed for ten months.

“The pain was incredible and I’ve been very sad and down and was convincing myself that I was never going to work again. I really started to lose my confidence, which is so unlike me and it has been a really horrible journey for my partner and my daughter as well.

“So I was thrilled when Hope Springs came up. I was like: ‘Yes! This is exactly what I want to do next!’ and the best thing to get back to work in. It has that fun Cutting It vibe, Hannah’s a great character and it’s on BBC One. So I couldn’t have asked for a better comeback as it were – which really is what this feels like…”

Alex Kingston has made her mark on British TV playing strong, powerful women from Boudica battling the Romans to adventuress Moll Flanders cutting a dash through 18th century England. Now she’s bang up-to-date as Hope Spring’s gang boss, Ellie Lagden.

Feisty, shrewd, yet big-hearted, she’s very much the leader of this pack of ex-cons. However, Alex admits she’s bewildered as to why she’s constantly at the top of casting agents’ lists when they’re looking for someone to play a no-nonsense ball-breaker.

“I don’t know why I get cast as these women because I’m actually not very strong or tough myself,” ponders Alex. “It’s great because they are very nice parts, but I do wonder whether people expect me to be as strong as these characters. Maybe they do. Maybe that’s what people think I am like? My God, I hope not,” she adds, laughing.

“I assume it’s because I’m tall, I’ve got quite a centred voice and, you know, I’m not skinny. I’m strongly built. I think that’s probably why things work out like this for me. Ellie’s another tough nut to crack and maybe her vulnerability doesn’t show through as much as some of the other characters I’ve played, so yes, she’s definitely another strong one to add to the list.”

Married to bad-boy mobster Roy Lagden (played by Mark Frost), Ellie has spent most of her adult life as a gangster’s wife, believing that happiness was a life of luxury and bling. But four years at Her Majesty’s pleasure means she’s discovered all that glitters is not necessarily gold.

“She went to school with her husband, he was a couple of classes above her and was the handsome bad-boy that all the girls fancied. She ended up getting him and they’ve been together ever since then. I don’t think she’s ever known another man. I imagine she always guessed he was doing dodgy deals and she’d accept packages that came to the house and became more involved, not by doing anything especially bad or majorly illegal, but by being on the periphery.

“She didn’t ask questions because she liked the lifestyle that his so-called work brought. She liked the bling, the money, the lovely cars and of course the nice house with the lions at the gate.”

She also loved Roy enough to take the rap for him and serve three years in jail for fraud. But then she found out he was hiding a massive secret from her – his girlfriend and their child.

“She could cope with taking the rap for him, that was something she felt she could handle. But, as far as she’s concerned, the thing that was the worst he could’ve done to her was when she found out he’d been having an affair all the time and had a kid. That’s why she wants revenge and I don’t think she’d necessarily have sought her revenge so spectacularly if she hadn’t made that discovery.”

A lengthy stretch in prison has given Ellie clarity of thought. She realises that if she wants to change her life she’d better do it now and she’s not going to rely on any bloke to get there. Ellie now knows that the friends in her life – Hannah (played by Sian Reeves), Shoo (Christine Bottomley) and Josie (Vinette Robinson) – are her new future.

“Ellie has this strength and wants to mother and look after the other girls. She says: ‘Look, if you stick with me we’ll have a good time. So let’s get out of here and set ourselves up for a life in the sun somewhere’. She makes it all sound fantastic because Ellie just has this charisma and that strong belief that anything is possible, and the others believe in her because of that.”

Together, they hatch a plan to escape to Barbados and start a new life, courtesy of £3million stolen from Roy. But things don’t quite go according to plan and they end up in hiding in a remote and slightly eerie Scottish village called Hope Springs, much to the initial bemusement of the locals.

“They must think that the aliens have landed or something when we turn up,” grins Alex. “That’s what I hope comes across anyway.

“And, of course, we as characters think we are on our way to the Barbados, so we’re all in our bright Caribbean holiday gear and end up standing in the wild and windy Scottish moors. So we should definitely look like fish out of water,” says the Surrey-born actress, who returned to her role of Dr Elizabeth Corday in ER earlier this year for the long-running US medical drama’s star-studded final season.

“The locals certainly eye us with suspicion and quite rightly because, aside from our look, we are involved in some fairly suspicious activities. But the village itself, they have their own secrets which are also slowly revealed. So nobody there is whiter than white. Everyone is hiding something and despite the fact that our characters have just left prison, I don’t think they are that much worse than some of the villagers!”

Much to Ellie’s surprise, the village throws up some interesting relationships and an unlikely bond develops with the local policeman, Gil (Paul Higgins) – something his fiancee, Anne Marie (Ronni Ancona), isn’t too happy about.

“She needs to have him on her side because they are criminals and they’ve found themselves, out of all the places they could’ve chosen to hole up and hide, in this tiny little village that is actually embroiled in a murder investigation. She doesn’t want swarms of CID busying themselves around the place, so she’s very canny and initially that’s why she befriends Gil because she needs to know what’s going on.

“But then she actually genuinely does start to like him and it gets quite complicated because she knows he’s engaged to be married. She does have a moral bone in her body and so she doesn’t want to jeopardise that, even though she doesn’t particularly like his fiancee, Ann Marie.”

Over time Ellie learns how to let go of the past by discovering that friendships remain long after the bling is gone. And, through Gil, she’s reminded that not all men are bastards.

“I think Hope Springs has great potential,” says Alex. “It’s a wonderful idea that you can run with in any direction really and that was one of the things that drew me to doing it. And, also, it was the opportunity to work with this group of women who have such a fabulous age span. I just thought this could be fun and, after doing some more heavier roles, I was ready to have some fun.

“As well as the drama there are also some truly hilarious moments, so the tone of the piece is quite difficult to describe, because it’s not broad comedy and it’s not straight drama. One of our directors kept calling it a ‘dram-edy’, which I think is spot-on because it is combining the two.

“Basically Hope Springs is a drama with humour and a certain amount of heightened humour. I don’t want to say campery, because I don’t think it is camp necessarily, but I would say it’s similar to the style of Desperate Housewives and that slightly heightened world that they live in.”

While the gang may have spent three years getting to know each other in jail, the actresses playing them only had a matter of weeks in rehearsal to create a bond between their characters. So Alex came up with a clever plan in order to kick-start their relationships.

“We went out on the town in character to this bar in Glasgow which was great fun. We ordered lots of champagne on the credit card and were quite loud and I think the poor barmen was terrified actually.

“Whenever he came over to bring us more drink or more food he was hearing snippets of conversation like Christine [Bottomley] talking about the only time she’d been to the seaside was when she was doing a drugs run and then us making up stories about stuff we’d got up to in prison. He really didn’t know what to make of us at all, the poor guy,” adds Alex, grinning.

“Our director thought we’d only last five or ten minutes but we actually stayed in character for a good four hours.

“Over time we’ve become a very close-knit group and we support each other and look out for each other and I think that’s why the group works so well off screen as well as on.

“I know some people like to believe that groups of women on a TV show are always hideously competitive but that certainly hasn’t been the case here. I don’t think there’s been any sort of diva behaviour and, if there has been any diva behaviour, I can promise you it hasn’t come from me!”

Following the fortunes of Ellie, Hannah, Shoo and Josie, Hope Springs is a funny new family drama for BBC One about four fabulous ex-cons trying to go straight, starring acclaimed international actress Alex Kingston (ER, Lost In Austen) alongside Sian Reeves (Cutting It), Christine Bottomley (The Street) and Vinette Robinson (The Passion).

When the women’s long-held plan to start a new life in Barbados – courtesy of £3million stolen from Ellie’s vengeful gangster husband – goes awry, they find themselves in hiding in a remote Scottish village called Hope Springs.

All they have to do is keep their heads down, assume new identities and plan an escape to their Barbados idyll, but little do they know Hope Springs is going to change their lives forever.

A sparkingly modern fish-out-of-water drama set against the stunning backdrop of gorgeous Scottish scenery, Hope Springs also stars Annette Crosbie (Little Dorrit, One Foot In The Grave), Ronni Ancona (The Big Impression, Ronni Ancona & Co), Paul Higgins (The Thick Of It) and Alec Newman (Reichenbach Falls) and is made by Shed Productions – the company behind hit TV series including Waterloo Road, Bad Girls and Footballers’ Wives.

Fun, lively and entertaining, Hope Springs is an escapist eight-part drama for BBC One all about losing millions, finding love and chasing your dreams – no matter how unattainable they seem. But, most of all, it’s about finding a real family amongst friends.

Hope Springs was filmed in Scotland on location in Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway with interior scenes shot at BBC Scotland’s newly-developed drama studios in Dumbarton.

Other BBC dramas filmed at the Dumbarton studios include new BBC Three series P.A.s (2AM TV) and award-winning God On Trial (Hat Trick Productions, BBC Two). It is also the home to BBC Scotland’s acclaimed soap, River City.

Hope Springs is a Shed Production through BBC Scotland for BBC One.

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