Just how dangerous is Francesca Annis?

She's dark, delicious and thoroughly alluring. She whisked Ralph Fiennes, star of `Schindler's List', away from his wife after playing his mum in an acclaimed `Hamlet' in Hackney - prompting suggestions from her ex-partner that she had an obsession with younger men. Two years later, she is still with Fiennes. But, Ivan Waterman wants to know, is she happy?

The "F" word was always going to be a problem, but Francesca Annis breezes into the room with an aura of nervous energy, making an effort to warm to the situation. "Now, where would you like me ... here?" she says, pointing to an easy chair in the discreet South Kensington hotel. "Perhaps over there?" she enquires, throwing a glance at a sofa at the far end of the lounge. Her "minder" from Channel 5 is trying hard not to "mind", playing it cool in the background. Ms Annis settles down for another game of verbal cat-and-mouse. Appropriately she is dressed from top to toe in black. The ink is barely dry on Ralph Fiennes' "quickie" divorce papers from the actress Alex Kingston, late of Moll Flanders, now of ER.

She is 52; Fiennes, a youthful 34. Marriage is out. She has no interest in that institution. Irritatingly for both of them, their glittering careers have been overshadowed by this traumatic chain of personal events.

But the producer of Annis's latest television foray, Deadly Summer, a dreamy black comedy of feminist dimensions set in rural Burgundy, believes she knows a class act when she sees one. Julia Ouston cast Annis (alongside Bob Peck, Pauline Quirke and Nicholas Farrell) because, she says, "We wanted someone who wasn't known for comedy, somebody with natural class. And Francesca is just so funny!"

Never mind the "F" word, it's the "C" word that now seems to upset her. "I don't know about class," she says, unable to accept the compliment for what it was. "Everyone has class, one class or another. Everything is about class in England, whether it's upper, lower or middle. Why should that be?"

Why, indeed? Annis has perfected a bizarre way of responding to questions as though she were addressing one of her subjects. Perhaps it's the roles she has played, or the influence of those she has been close to. Early in her career she had a minor part as the handmaiden Iris in the tantrum- strewn epic Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. As Annis pushed her way past the autograph-hunters who mobbed the film's two stars, she was occasionally asked if she was famous too. The fans usually told her to do her signature in any case but to "keep it small".

Much later, Roman Polanski was so mesmerised by her screen-test that he cast her as his Lady M opposite the Macbeth of the rising star Jon Finch. The film received a tepid response but Annis had arrived. She was a player, and both Finch and Hollywood liked what they saw.

While they lived together, studios attempted to lure her to California with all kinds of carrots. She was going through her feminist hippie phase and rejected their hard cash in order to retain her anti-materialist integrity. One producer was brazen enough to chuck in a mansion in Bel Air in its own grounds "under certain conditions". She told him what to do with his tennis court. Her longest spell on the West Coast was eight months. She has no regrets: "I never pursued being `famous'. When I was involved in the women's movement, I made choices and turned down a lot of opportunities. So yes, I could have been more famous. That doesn't bother me. I turned down Vogue covers as well. Exposure makes you famous, not just good work. Famous is being plastered everywhere.

"For me, it was right not staying in Hollywood. I didn't want to exploit my sexuality - that's what Hollywood was about then. But, more importantly, I have always been offered work in England. I am very European. My roots are here."

That said, Annis was never the girl-next-door type, She was stunning as Ophelia in an American tour of Hamlet and made a breathtaking Juliet with the Royal Shakespeare Company. And then, with age, she entered her "dark" phase. In the West End she portrayed Mrs Erlynne in Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan with cold abandon.

But it was on television that she almost cornered the market as the Numero Uno Dangerous Lady. There was her frivolous music-hall siren Lillie Langtry who captivated Edward VII in the award-winning serial Lillie, and her dynamic, Machiavellian Kitty O'Shea opposite Trevor Eve in Parnell and the Englishwoman. Lately, slipping into middle-aged seductress mode, she was to be found sharing a bed with Neil Pearson in the police drama Between the Lines. By coincidence she has just finished making a sequel to Reckless in which she has an adulterous affair with the new small-screen icon Robson Green.

I raise the subject of the older woman and the younger man. There is 18 years between her and Fiennes. She would have one believe that this is more or less irrelevant. Really? "There is a good line in Reckless, when I say to Robson Green, `What's attractive about older women?' and he says, `I am not interested in older women, I am interested in you.' That says it all for me."

So what is it about Annis that makes TV executives, at least, believe she can make younger men go wobbly at the knees? She does look 10 years younger as her wavy, auburn hair flops about her shoulders. Her figure is perfect. "I think it is to do with me being dark," says. "But I would hate people to think of me as dangerous. I am about as dangerous," she grins, glancing down to the coffee table between us, "as that biscuit ... could it be that one might be a good actress?"

Clearly, she is displeased with her image as the Scarlet Woman. "Everyone is so judgmental today about who is right and wrong and you [the public] don't know the truth. In the end, they [the press] create a false image of a situation. It is certainly not better to get it out into the open. I don't find any need to `put the record straight'. It doesn't, anyway. They will move on to somebody else eventually."

Deadly Summer is a departure for her. It affords her the rare opportunity to be ordinary. As middle-aged fairly upmarket Celia Harcourt she is stuck with a pompous failure of a husband in Don (Bob Peck) and a promiscuous uncaring daughter in Katie (Sarah Smart). She is a soul in emotional limbo. Their downmarket friends Linda and boorish Jim Topping (Quirke and Farrell) are also in marital Armageddon. Late in the day ghoulish justice is seen to be done when the males of the species get their come-uppance.

The writers Bony Stringle and Jackie Robb provide a breezy, fun ride in the mould of Frayn or Ayckbourn. But Annis is probably more at home in something like Reckless. The television company's blurb for that show - "Is theirs the sort of love which survives all kinds of adversity?" - could almost have been written to describe her involvement with Fiennes.

According to those who know and have worked with her, Annis is much misunderstood, much maligned. As one of her peers at the National Theatre put it: "On the outside Francesca may appear prim and proper. But she is a minx and hysterical at times, in a funny sense. She can be quite a chameleon. She really does enjoy passion and excitement."

But is she happy? "I don't know what this concept of happiness is," she says mysteriously, as if she has just crept into a rehearsal of a piece by Beckett. "People have been talking about it since the war. Everything is fine. So, no, I am not ... unhappy."

`Deadly Summer' is on Channel 5 on Sunday 30 November.

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

    £850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary