Jimmy McGovern’s award-winning BBC One series – Accused: Mo’s Story
Mo Murray is a woman who knows right from wrong and will not be intimidated by anyone. She works hard running a friendly local hairdressing business as well as providing a stable and loving home for her son, Jake (Thomas Brody Sangster), which her mother, Maureen (Ruth Sheen), shares with them.
Anne-Marie Duff is that rare breed of actress who is revered by audiences, critics and her fellow actors. Perhaps it’s because her performances don’t disappoint and are never predictable. Whether it’s her portrayal of Fiona in Paul Abbott’s Shameless or the majesty of Queen Elizabeth I in The Virgin Queen, audiences can be assured of intelligent and compelling performances which not only stay with them, but say something about the times in which her characters live.
Now Anne-Marie turns her attention to Mo Murray, a woman who is a world away from her last role on BBC television in which she played prima ballerina, Margot Fonteyn. So what draws Anne-Marie to this project?
“The first thing that attracts me to any script is the writing. If I find myself becoming lost in a good yarn then I feel certain that others will too. Of course, whenever a script has Jimmy’s name attached to it you know you’re in for a treat in some way or another.
“This story is utterly compelling and heartbreaking but also it feels rooted in truth: it addresses many fears that we as parents and also as a society are deeply concerned about.”
This begs the question does Anne-Marie think that Carol Cullington and Jimmy McGovern’s script brings home the enormity of murder and its effect on the victim’s family as well as the perpetrator’s nearest and dearest?
“I think Carol’s experiences certainly add to the integrity of the effects on both families. I associate Jimmy’s writing with presenting us with both sides of any argument. So the two storytellers combined bring together a story swollen with tragedy and truth.”
Describing her character Anne-Marie says: “Mo is a strong individual who is at a terrifying tipping point in her existence. In many ways there are lots of similarities with other characters that I’ve been lucky enough to play.”
It is apparent that Anne-Marie sees many qualities in Mo to admire. But, does she think Mo does the right thing refusing to yield to pressure from the local gangster, Cormack? Or is her mum partly right about her daughter being pigheaded?
“The sad truth is that Mo is right to defy and refuse to be bullied but without unity there is no strength in defiance,” is Anne Marie’s insightful observation.
She continues: “For me this is the great tragedy of the film; that we live in a society bound up in self preservation. We have lost a sense of community spirit. This means we are easier to control. In that way I absolutely admire Mo, and I loved the fact that I was forced to analyse my own responses to certain scenarios played out.”
Which leads on to would Anne-Marie make the same moral choices if she were in Mo’s shoes?
“That is an incredibly hard question to answer. Mo’s son Jake is a criminal. But his motivation is not greed or malice, but is he is guilty of a heinous act committed out of terror and enormous pressure from others.
“I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have no idea how I would react to the situation Mo, as his mother, finds herself in. That’s the brilliance of the dichotomy. That’s what makes it at times agonizing viewing but something we can all understand.”
Does being a mother inform Anne-Marie’s performance in any way?
“Perhaps I have a more visceral response now. But I do believe that I would have found the story just as upsetting before my son and those viewers who have no children can relate this terrible event – losing a loved one. And, especially losing a loved one, who is at the very start of their life’s adventure.”
Do you think the moral dilemmas that both friends face in this story have a wider resonance and ring true in our society today?
“I think that there is a timeless element to the moral dilemmas. This story could be set anywhere in the world or at any time. You only have to watch a film like ‘Blackboard Jungle’ to realise that we haven’t just invented gang culture. Parental responsibility is not a new issue.
“But it’s a tragic song that we hear playing on most news broadcasts; so it’s very much part of my psyche.”
In spite of the tragedy that befalls both Sue and Mo – was it good to work with Olivia and the team?
“I loved working with Olivia. She’s a wonderful woman and actress. I had just seen the brilliant film ‘Tyrannosaur’ so I was very excited that I would get to ‘play’ with her. Olivia has phenomenal warmth both as an actress and as an individual. She also has a wicked sense of humour which as you can imagine was much needed! I’d work with her again tomorrow!”
Do you take your work home – how do you unwind?
“I try very hard not to take work home but it can be tricky. Sometimes it feels as if you are wearing your costume underneath your own clothes! I suppose things are always ticking away in the back of your mind.”
So after such a heart-rending modern morality tale what will this infinitely adaptable actress take on next?
“I spent last summer in county Cavan working on a beautiful Irish/Polish film called Sanctuary about grief and love. It was directed and written by a brilliant young writer/director called Norah McGettigan. I really hope that it’s widely seen.
“Parade’s End on the other hand is a huge BBC/HBO drama adaptation of a series of Ford Maddox Ford novels with a screenplay by Sir Tom Stoppard and directed by Susanna White. I play a fabulous character who is rather emotional and has fantastic romantic notions of the world which can only lead to disaster!”
So the good news is there’s plenty more memorable drama to come.