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Silk: Maxine Peake on playing Martha

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Fiona Wickham Fiona Wickham | 09:21 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Series two of Silk opens on BBC One tonight, with Martha Costello now a QC. Actress Maxine Peake answered our questions about the return of the courtroom drama.

How has Martha's character developed in series two?

I don't know whether Martha has developed much as a character as we seem to stay well away from her personal life in this series and focus on her cases much more.

I think if anything she's becoming tougher but it hasn't been easy.

Martha Costello (Maxine Peake) stands in court in wig and gown

Maxine Peake as Martha Costello QC

You said "it would be extremely challenging for me to play Martha" when series one came out. What was most challenging about it?

I think convincing myself I could credibly play a barrister.

When you have an accent as specific as mine people do tend to pigeon-hole you. Especially as far as class and education are concerned.

I think people associate being middle class with a lack of accent. That is not the case, especially up north, and that a university education would neutralise any accent. We really need to change our way of thinking!

The amount of dialogue to learn too bordered sometimes on the impossible!

How do you get into character?

I have to create a detailed back story for each character I play.

I find it really useful to use music, literature and art as keys to their personality. What they like to listen to, read. Art that stimulates them. I find a song or painting which I think represents them.

A friend of mine, Lex Shrapnel, said to me after a Fleet Foxes concert that the beautiful thing about music is that you can tell a whole story in a few minutes and I think that goes for encapsulating a character's inner life.

Peter [Moffat] very kindly would adapt his scripts to fit my back story too. Which was fantastic.

Tell us a bit about Clive and Martha's relationship and how they test each other over the series.

Martha and Clive are now the best of friends and as with the people you love the most, they challenge and taunt each other.

I adore their relationship. As Rupert put it perfectly: they are like brother and sister who sometimes get a little confused!

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Martha annoys Clive by calling him a 'note taker'

Did you do any further research for series two?

I went back to the Old Bailey for a couple of days with Rupert this time and we sat in on a murder trial.

I also met up with a female QC at a chambers in Manchester and she talked me through the highs and lows.

With the cuts to legal aid it's very difficult at the moment and hopefully if Silk goes to a third series Peter might highlight that.

How do you feel during this period between finishing shooting and the programme airing?

I fortunately went straight into another job so didn't give it much thought. Although this year I felt we became much more of a team and did miss everyone a little.

We had the fabulous Frances Barber, Indira Varma, Phil Davis and Shaun Evans on board so we all had to up our game.

Can you enjoy watching your performance on screen or does it make you uncomfortable?

I hate it! It sends me into the depths of despair!

Which of the actors did you most enjoy working with?

I love my scenes with Neil Stuke, he's such an open and energetic actor you just have to react to him.

I bloody love Rupert, he's funny and terribly self-deprecating and I was over the moon when Shaun Evans joined us. He's such a great actor and I've always had a wee bit of a crush on him, but don't tell him that!

What was your personal highlight?

Getting to finally meet Frances Barber. What a woman!

Maxine Peake plays Martha Costello QC in Silk.

Silk returns tonight at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    I can't wait for this next series to start. I have missed the drama in my life!
    Andy, from [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 2.

    I love this programme! As a barrister myself I can associate with some of the content. I think Maxine plays Martha brilliantly!

  • Comment number 3.

    Silk is the best drama on TV. Totally gripped with tonights episode. I think Maxine is fantastic.She has come a long way since Dinnerladies. Keep going girl!

  • Comment number 4.

    Would Martha really have encouraged Brendan to testify against the Farrs knowing that if he went free he would be tortured and killed? I enjoyed the programme but felt uncomfortable with this aspect of the case, thinking she would have weighed the consequences and realised what was going to happen to him

  • Comment number 5.

    This is a wonderfully wordy script well delivered especially by Maxine Peake . The addition of Frances Barber is the icing on the cake !

  • Comment number 6.

    Silk is a good series,but it has one fault. Many of the main characters who are supposed to be intelligent and strong minded are portrayed as smokers. Smokers may be intelligent or they may be strong minded, but they cannot be both !

  • Comment number 7.

    fantastic program @fierce a dilemma send him to jail for 12 years or prove him innocent

  • Comment number 8.

    I like 'Silk' very much, I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of series 2, and think Maxine Peake is very good. But please, Ms Peake, please could you give an interview, just once, where you don't bring up the issue of class, accent, or being a northerner? I don't recall Richard Armitage, who is also a Northerner with a discernible accent, ever harping on about the issue. Please do give it a break.

  • Comment number 9.

    My partner and me love Silk, Great casting and fabulous scripts by Peter Moffat are a winning solution. Still reeling after last nights ending which has made you question everything Martha stands for. Any tv show that you still think about the next day in my book is award winning. Well done to the BBC

  • Comment number 10.

    Another great BBC production totally ruined by the incessant and unneccessary background ?music? Why! Why! Why! It ruins the enjoyment. So many of my friends say the same thing. When will someone listen!!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    I believe this story is not credible; a simpleton bullied into committing acts of violence. Then it turns out he has a soft heart and turns himself in. In real life, the Farrs would have thrown him out as being too soft. Would someone who immediately felt repugnance for his crime have gone through with it? He would probably have a long string of minor convictions, about which we heard nothing. Clearly, he should have been in some form of care, and I think might have been if he had simply run away from the Farrs after they mutilated his toes. All fiction departs from reality but this went too far.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hello tony dawes #10 - thanks for your comment. You're right that the volume of background music is a common complaint to the BBC. The BBC did some research into this and Danny Cohen, the controller of BBC One, wrote this post on the TV blog last year about the findings: Is the background music too loud? Just in case of interest.


  • Comment number 13.

    Just out of interest, didn't anybody notice the judge (who as a circuit judge should have been addressed throughout as "Your Honour", NOT "My Lord) directing the jury to return a verdict of "guilty"? Such directins were effectively outlawed by the House olf Lords in the case of John Stonehouse, some-time Postmaster General and Reggie Perrin impersonator, in1978. The judgement was reaffirmed in R v Wang, 2005 when they said (at paragraph 18) "We would.. answer the certified question by saying that there are no circumstances in which a judge is entitled to direct a jury to return a verdict of guilty." Just thought I'd mention it! Apart from that, a great episode.

  • Comment number 14.

    In reply to Redpaladin 6. Some smokers can be intelligent and strong minded, some of them are so strongminded and intelligent as to stand up for thier beliefs just like Martha in this powerful and gripping drama. More of this type of excellent theatre please.

  • Comment number 15.

    Maxine, please keep up the good work in addressing gender and class issues, too few people do this or are even aware: the time is now!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    What happened to the pupils Niamh and Nick?! :( They aren't in Season 2!

  • Comment number 17.

    Hello Fiona Wickham#12 - Thank-you for sharing Danny Cohen's findings, but they only serve to demonstrate how little notice the BBC takes. The persistent intrusive nature of the music on Silk- the volume particularly - flies in the face of the findings and promises in the article you reference. It astounds me that the programme makers cannot be aware of what a destructive force they are wreaking upon their own creation. Might it be that they "approve" the programme in a perfectly equipped cInema sound environment which does not adequately replicate the reality of most viewers' watching (and listening) experience? The problem is not a general one- it is specific to the ruination of this particular programme by the sound mix.

  • Comment number 18.

    This, along with series such as Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, is what makes the BBC's licence fee worthwhile. Silk is brilliant - drama I really enjoy - and Maxine Peake is utterly superb as Martha Costello. I don't know whether it is an accurate portrayal of a QC but I can watch her in this role for hours. She seems honest and with a conscience - not qualities that immediately come to mind relating to the legal profession - but she is one of the best things to happen in television drama. Thank you for the entertainment.

  • Comment number 19.

    The best series on BBC One You feel the highs and lows that Maxine portrays in Martha's journey. Absolutely great. I love a series when you can engage with the characters. I find myself cheering 'when Martha wins the case which is very odd considering its a fictitious drama I cant wait for tomorrows episode highlight of the week well done Maxine you make Silk feel more believable

  • Comment number 20.

    The first series was great so here's hoping the second one is too. One thing though - have I missed something - I thought Martha was pregnant in the last series but don't think this has been mentioned so far?

  • Comment number 21.

    I think Silk is fantastic. I've been hooked from episode one. Compared to alot of courtroom dramas Silk carries a weight of authenticity, which is excellently executed by Maxine Peake. Tuning in to see sexy Maxine is a pleasure and never a chore. I can't wait for tonights episode. If all Qcs looked like Peake, there would be alot more career criminals.

  • Comment number 22.

    Tont Dawes is absolutely correct. Music in the background of many programmes is infuriating. Is it an idea to pay the royalties through the side door?

  • Comment number 23.

    To Tony Dawes # 10, Verbal007 and Peter - I am the producer of 'Silk' - We do mix the show in a cinema surround environment with some extraordinarily talented individuals (the sound-mixer recently won a BAFTA for his work on Sherlock). However, being aware of the effect of background music on some listeners I always sign-off on the mix listening to it on an ordinary television. If background sound is particularly loud then we will dip it in volume under dialogue so characters can be heard. Thank you for your feedback - it is something we must keep in mind.

  • Comment number 24.

    To thesoncskier - actors in an ongoing series are sometimes 'optioned' - a clause in their contract which means a producer has first call on their time if a further series is commissioned. However, this can prove expensive and difficult to negotiate so, sometimes, the option is discarded. The actors playing Nick and Niamh were not optioned for series 2 of 'Silk' and had both built growing and exciting careers since filming series 1. Editorially Peter Moffat felt that more screen-time could be dedicated to Martha, Clive and Billy without the pupils (and he had ideas about new characters; Micky Joy and CW) so was happy to lose these characters.

  • Comment number 25.

    And to the many who have posted a positive response to this series, thank you. I and the rest of the cast and crew hope you continue to enjoy the series.

  • Comment number 26.

    To Richard Stokes: Richard - what about Martha's pregnancy - I'm consumed with curiosity about this!

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with Lizabetty: what has happened Martha's pregnancy?

  • Comment number 28.

    This otherwise excellent programme is flawed by poor legal research. This week’s episode saw Martha’s client apparently pleading guilty to a serious assault on a shopkeeper; the charge of attempted murder was apparently dropped because they couldn’t prove “intent” and he pleaded to a lesser offence.
    That he received a sentence of 8 years suggests that was under Section 18, Offences Against the Person Act 1861, for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. But hang on - EXACTLY the same element of “intent” is needed for that as for murder. So it must have been a Section 20 offence ; however the maximum penalty for that is FIVE years. AND he’d have to have been given credit for a guilty plea – that’s up to a year off, depending when he entered his plea. (Criminal Justice Act 2003 S 144…)
    We also heard the victim giving evidence. Why? I didn’t hear the phrase “Newton hearing” uttered by anyone….
    I suggest someone buys the writer(s) a copy of Archbold (the criminal barrister’s bible) for Christmas.

  • Comment number 29.

    Msg 27 - Martha had a miscarriage after she was punched by that vicious criminal that seemed obsessed with her in the last series.

  • Comment number 30.

    I have just finished watching Episode 3 from Series 2 of Silk. Firstly, as always, Maxine Peake is sooo good. She's such an excellent actress and she makes the series for me. However, in Episode 3 there is an amazing performance from an actor called Morgan Watkins. He is so believable that I seriously found it hard to believe the lines were learnt! He surely has a great career ahead of him. Brilliant!

  • Comment number 31.

    Like everyone else I absolutely love this series but I just felt I had to provide a positive comment to Richard Stokes about the background music as I completely disagree with the other comments made above - I think the music (and level of volume) is spot on and totally in keeping with the fast paced and intense atmosphere of the programme and the barristers and solicitors rushing too and from chambers or the court, adding to the excitement and tension... watching episode 4 I found myself wondering whether I could purchase it from anywhere!

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi all

    Thanks for your comments.

    Stephharrisuk #31 - I have done a search online and it looks like the programme will be available to buy from the usual outlets from 25 June onwards.

    Many thanks

    BBC TV blog

  • Comment number 33.

    I am enjoying the series but echo the comments about smoking on this and other series. I would like to take issue with a couple of incidents on the episode about the Court Martial; an officer wearing head dress in the Mess - that is the type of thing that a subaltern would get extras for. Maxine drinking from a bottle in the Mess would be a definite no-no, the Mess Secretary would have a purple fit.

    Otherwise a good quality series with strong characters.

  • Comment number 34.

    I totally agree with stephharrisuk about the music. The volume is perfect for this show and it just adds to the fast paced drama. This is the best drama the BBC have put out in years. It is so compelling to watch such great tv. The star of the show of course is Maxine. She really deserves to win an award for such an amazing portrayal. All of the other characters blend in perfectly. And finally, who really cares about small issues like her smoking or drinking. In no way does this detract from the story. We can pick on so many trivial issues which maybe dont work for us, but credit where its due. This show is amazing!!! Well done BBC

  • Comment number 35.

    Where do we go from here ! The programme is a fantastic production and although I am up for a new series but for some of the research .
    Some points have already been mentioned so I won't dwell, casting is first class and the story lines ( narrative ) seem weak with content .
    The star is Maxine peake as Martha and is quintessential to the programme...Look forward to the new series

  • Comment number 36.

    I have enjoyed the Silk series very much, especially the first series. I thought the characters were well drawn. Maxine Peake is a SUPERB actress. We are looking forward to the next series. I thought Clive's character wasn't as punchy as in the first series; the relationship with Goerge detracted from the character's strong sense of ambition so well portrayed in the first series. The main plea for the next series is PLEASE make the scripts a little less challenging to follow!! The plots were not clear in any of the episodes and some of the procedures of Law are not familiar to most of us. The stories in the first series had more bite and perhaps next time a slightly greater emphasis on storyline would be appreciated! I thought the first series got the balance just right between story; portrayal of a lawyer's office; the court procedures and interplay of characters. In the current series I thought the exploration of issues was well done; what is justice; right and wrong, an examination of the grey areas of situations and between characters; the tensions between the sexes; women in power positions; prejudices....that aren't even recognised in ourselves...I could go on...! WELL DONE to all involved Thank you for an excellent piece of drama. Fiona and family

  • Comment number 37.

    Does anyone know the name of the track that was being played as he was going into the body scanner?

  • Comment number 38.

    It's Puncture Repair by Elbow. I also adore this drama (not loved anything as much since the West Wing) - more episodes in series 3 please!

  • Comment number 39.

    Thank you so much katiedc!! :) I have only one of their albums..build a rocket boys...they did cross my mind funnily enough..the piano possibly! And yes, best series (since 2) I've got into for a while!

  • Comment number 40.

    I've just seen the last episode of this current series and would like to say how brilliantly well played by all the cast. I am on sorry that the BBC con only do 6 at a stretch. I am doubly disappointed as I have also finished watch the Good Wife end too, in the past three weeks. I would love it if the Silk writers could perhaps ask Tony or Ridley Scott to perhaps guest write or direct.

  • Comment number 41.

    Watching Silk in the second season was such a huge pleasure. We have such a great legacy of television to preserve and continue in this country. With today’s budget cuts and era of reality driven programming, the standard of Silk throughout made me proud to be British. It showed a commitment to excellence in every way –dialogue, settings, plots, casting and fabulous acting from everyone (Maxine Peake is incredible). Thank you for showing us we can still do it. More please.

  • Comment number 42.

    curious37 - 3 generations of my family all had the same question! Brilliant music throughout, thank you katiedc

  • Comment number 43.

    Excellent drama, everyone plays their part so well..... I hope there will be a third series.

  • Comment number 44.

    So sad that the series has ended already, this really has been a brilliant series. Once again, acting of the highest calibre, I hope the BBC have already started on the next episodes, this intelligent programme will be sorely missed.

  • Comment number 45.

    Well Tony Dawes i cant agree, this is the best series ive watched in decades and i wasnt aware of any background music, acting and scripts first rate. People that complain about the accuracy of the law arent really watching for the enjoyment, its never going to be exactly spot on, relax and watch it for what it is. Cant believe its veronica from shameless, i live in Australia and never saw her in anything else.

  • Comment number 46.

    I am an avid fan of series 1 & 2. When can we expect to see series 3 ??. I watched the series on T. V. and then bought both series 1 and 2 in DVD form, and have watched the DVDs twice. An excellent T V court drama. Well done BBC.



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