Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan: From masturbation to restoration

Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan takes on a king in a new 17th-century drama. Gerard Gilbert joins him on set

With Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the BBC's adaptations of Hilary Mantel's twin Booker-winning novels following the rise and fall of Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell, about to go into production, the Tudors' grip on historical television drama appears to be as vice-like as ever.

The BBC did attempt to broaden our dynastic perspective last year with The White Queen, 10-part version of Philippa Gregory's Wars of the Roses bestsellers – but even this could be seen as "The Tudors: the Prequel". And in any case The White Queen, like the last Plantagenet monarch, Richard III, met an inglorious end surrounded by but a few trusty followers. In terms of cultural impact, sadly, it almost might as well have been buried beneath a Leicester car park.

One fairly recent exception to this Tudor dominance has been The Devil's Whore, Peter Flannery and Martine Brant's rip-roaring 2008 Channel 4 saga about the English Civil War, spanning the years 1638 to 1660 and following a mix of real characters (including Dominic West's Oliver Cromwell, Peter Capaldi's King Charles I and John Simms's Leveller leader Edward Sexby) with fictional creations such as the proto-feminist Angelica Fanshawe (played by Andrea Riseborough).

And now The Devil's Whore has a sequel of sorts. It's called New Worlds and again it's co-written by Flannery and Brant – the latter a historian who had the original idea of following one woman's experience of the English Civil War after she started investigating the origins of her 16th-century Oxfordshire home, Wytham Abbey. Once more featuring Angelica Fanshawe, but this time in a more supporting role (and played in her maturity by Nurse Jackie's Eve Best), New Worlds is set in the 1680s, deep into the reign of King Charles II, whose restoration of the monarchy ushered out the joyless years of Cromwell's Puritan dictatorship. Or at least that's the way this era is so often misrepresented, argues Brant.

"The Restoration is thought of in popular imagination as King Charles the merry monarch and all of his mistresses," she says. "The republican experiment [under Cromwell] hadn't really worked, and so from 1660 onwards everyone was very pleased to welcome back Charles II. He was going to heal the wounds, he promised justice and no persecution. But in fact, his regime turned into one of the most repressive that this country has ever known, and not many people know that."

Fifty Shades of Grey film 'surprisingly tame' with more 'PG kissing' than sex

"The civil wars and the republic are taught dismissively as 'the Interregnum'," adds Peter Flannery. "A minor blip between two monarchs, not a massively important chapter in our political history. I think it's largely to do with the fact we cut off the head of the King yet we still have a monarchy. It's an uncomfortable memory. There's a fascinating tension here when we came to write our new drama. It's a world where you'd be going to one of the new Restoration plays or a lecture in the 'new science' at the Royal Society, walking past bodies in gibbets and heads on poles…"

New Worlds is set on both sides of the Atlantic – in and around the Fanshawes' Oxfordshire home and in Massachusetts where the Puritan settlers are at odds with both the Native Americans and royal agents out for revenge against fugitive regicides (these American scenes were actually filmed in Romania). It has a younger and less well-known cast than The Devil's Whore, although Jamie Dornan is about to become a major player. His serial killer in last year's controversial BBC2 thriller The Fall marked him out as an actor to be watched, but next year's movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey (in which he plays billionaire BDSM enthusiast Christian Grey) will introduce him to a global audience of EL James fans.

 

"Abe is an idealist and an outlaw," says Dornan. "He's very determined in his fight to make England a true republic and end the tyrannical rule of the Stuarts' throne. It is a similar fight to that taken up by his father, William Goffe, who was a real historical figure and one whom Abe idolises."

Growing up in Belfast, says Dornan, "the English Civil War was not on the school curriculum… so to some extent I had to learn from scratch". Suggested reading for the young cast included Lucy Worsley's Cavalier, the chirpy TV historian's portrait of a colourful 17th-century aristocrat, although it was contemporary news events that caught the imagination of Game of Thrones and Skins actor Joe Dempsie.

"Interestingly enough we were filming this around the same time that the second uprising in Egypt was happening," says Dempsie, who plays Ned, a New England colonist trying to throw off the control of the Crown. "It's not a cosy, tea and crumpet on a Sunday evening watching people in their tight corsets run around," adds Australian actress Alice Englert, who happens to be film-maker Jane Campion's daughter. "It's got a really strong important message to it." Englert plays Hope ("one of the original young Americans" as she puts it), whose idealism fades as she witnesses the enclosure of Native American lands and the Puritan repression of women.

Says Brant: "When you see the righteous self-justification of annexing Indian lands, you think of the concept of exceptionalism underlying much of American policy. And the English settlers who went to Massachusetts in the 1630s and founded Boston – John Winthrop's City on the Hill – wanted a church where there were much stronger strictures. It was very Talibanesque… very prescriptive about the way people behaved, but women were the target of this much more so than the men.

"What we were trying to show is that the young have to engage with their world politically," she says. "This is about young people changing their world." It's left to Dornan to add perhaps a note of caution to the hope that New Worlds will raise political and historical awareness. "I have friends who watch television just for the costumes," he says. "A lot of people don't look beyond that."

'New Worlds' begins tonight at 9pm on Channel 4

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'