Helena Bonham Carter as Nolly
Helena Bonham Carter as Nolly
Adam Davidson finds out more about the actor’s latest role
At a screening of Nolly at the BFI Southbank, Helena Bonham Carter and Russel T Davies talked about how they brought to life the story of iconic TV figure Noele Gordon.
Noele was known as the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ and was one of the most famous people in Britain, starring as the iconic flame-haired widow Meg Richardson in the long-running soap opera Crossroads. Then in 1981, at the height of the show’s success and the peak of Nolly’s fame, she was axed without ceremony, without warning and with no explanation.
Despite being one of the most famous figures in the UK in the 70s / 80s, the actor is now relatively unknown to a large proportion of the population.
Leading the cast is Helena Bonham Carter as Nolly. When asked whether she had any awareness of Crossroads when growing up, she said: “Well I’m 56 so I was definitely brought up on Crossroads. I wasn’t an avid watcher but you couldn’t have not been aware of Crossroads or Meg Richardson but it wasn’t at the forefront of my brain.
“When the script came it was extraordinary, it was instantly a great piece of writing and beautifully told. You can act the pants off but if you’re not in great hands… and he’s (Davies) a master storyteller.”
Helena prepared immensely for this role as she felt a pressure to do justice to the real Nolly. She said: “I spent a long time, as I tend to with every part, un-earthing, excavating and going in search of her. Mostly because I’m terrified that I won’t get it right. I read her autobiography, which is an hilarious read! I spoke to all her friends, who were incredibly generous and that was very telling, because they really loved her.”
“They said she was somebody who had formidable opinions, was a formidable character, but also had a huge heart. She was a dedicated professional – and she ran the ship! She was an incredibly nuanced person and that was fun to play. One particular ingredient that I enjoyed was how she and ‘Meg Mortimer’ got confused and rolled into one.”
The show is also a bold exploration of how the establishment turns on women who refuse to play by the rules, the women it cannot understand and the women it fears.
Helena said: “That’s what I love about Russel’s work, similar to It’s a Sin, it’s about people who have been long forgotten for whatever reason. She was a dynamo, why get rid of a dynamo? I think it’s because men were threatened by a dynamo.”
Bonham Carter also talked about the issues of age and how women actors can be overlooked when they reach a certain age.
She said: “It’s about being powerful, female and last longer than 60, I mean for f**k’s sake, you have all these people in telly who are men. Where are our 74-year-old women? It should be more equal. We’re all marvellous!
“Our eggs might not be great but our souls and our stories and everything else are just as good as anyone’s.”
Nolly is set in the 1980s but Helena believes that many of the issues surrounding women in the industry at that time are still relevant today.
She said: “We are making progress, but there’s still chronic ageism, isn’t there? Our appearance is constantly a factor. Why should it be a factor? Just because we haven’t got the bouncy collagen cheeks it doesn’t mean that we’re any less valid. At 61, she was in her prime. And sacked.
“Nolly is also a bit of a MeToo story, but without the sex. It’s men in offices in suits deciding on what women should be doing, what they should be like.”
Nolly begins streaming on ITVX from 2 February.