Q. One of the things I love about The Bletchley Circle, apart from its evocative production values, was the credibility of the characters. Timothy doesn’t have whiff of posthumous political correctness to him. He believes in himself as Susan’s provider and protector, and sees no reason why his wife shouldn’t be content with her role as mother and wife. You could say the way he rewards her curiosity and intellect – by saving the crossword puzzles in the paper for her to finish – is patronising, but only if you try and force twenty-first-century hindsight onto the beautifully structured script. How did it feel playing a post-war husband? Did you find yourself wanting to display a more modern, nuanced understanding of Susan’s frustration?
I was told by a casting director the other day that male actors are usually far more concerned about ‘appearing sympathetic’ than their female counterparts, who are often more inclined to go the opposite way and find as many flaws in their characters as possible. Although I was shocked to hear about this curious gender divide, I do have to admit it was definitely a concern of mine with regard to Timothy. But at the end of the day I realised that 1950s society placed pressure on men to ‘play’ roles too, and I tried to show that Timothy was as much burdened by expectation and a need to conform as Susan was. There is a discomfort on both sides at having to live as your fellow citizens expect.
Q. Yes, that discomfort definitely came across onscreen. What research did you do for the role?
I’m more familiar with certain eras than others, and I’ve done a bit of stuff set in this period before so that wasn’t the main focus. Fortunately my job was to know absolutely nothing about code breaking or the goings-on at Bletchley Park – as the whole point is that Timothy is kept totally in the dark about all that. Mostly I looked at the effects of the war on the psyche of the men returning from it. Facing death on a daily basis and then coming back to crusty suburban life is a much harder transition than many of us realise.
Q. I’ve heard rumours of a second series… Can you confirm or deny? What would you like to see happen between Timothy and Susan in a second series?
I can confirm those rumours, we’re due to start filming in May. Major developments are in store for Timothy and Susan but that’s probably all I should say at this point!
Q. Intriguing! Since Bletchley, you’ve played a bounder in Father Brown and a psychotic toff in Ripper Street. Are you having as much fun as I suspect you are?
Your powers of deduction are impressive! Yes it’s been a very busy, very enjoyable year or so, and it’s good to explore your darker side after playing a woolly tank-top-loving civil servant! As well as playing those unsavoury types you mentioned, I’ll also be seen playing a ‘national hero’ in a later instalment of Mr Selfridge, so I don’t think I’ve been typecast just yet!
Q. Not a chance of that happening, I should say. This is a crime blog, so I have to ask: do you have a favourite crime writer? And is there a character in a crime book you’d love to play on stage or screen?
I’ve always been a fan of classic movie versions of classic crime novels. The Big Sleep being a favourite, which first drew me to the books of Raymond Chandler. Phillip Marlowe is one of those parts you’ll always find on an actor’s wish list. He’s certainly on mine.
I love Marlowe – read all Chandler’s books when I was a student and am due a re-read, so thanks for the prompt, and for the interview!
You can buy the first series of The Bletchley Circle on DVD now - highly recommended! You can follow Mark’s adventures over at his brilliant blog, The Bottled Beer Year “an insight into the dark, murky real life of a British actor, hell-bent on exploring the rich and varied world of finely crafted beer when he really ought to be learning his lines”, and on Twitter where he’s @BottledBeerYear