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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
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.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor